« PreviousContinue »
take away from the poetical profession something that answers to good breeding in manners, and that keeps it clear from rusticity, and the want of a universal reception; for Shakspeare, who might be thought a counter example from his want of scholastic learning, is in fact a singular example the other way, enriching the groundwork of his writings with figures and metaphors even to crowding, and evidently alive to all the use and dignity of classical allusion : not that a poet is always to be showing his reading, or learning, or letting the secret of his taste escape him; but that his taste, in one respect, if managed like Shakspeare's, will teach him to feel what is best and most tasteful in others, and enable him to give a simple or passionate expression as much perfection on the score of nature, as a compounded and elaborate one upon that of art. Mr. Wordsworth, with something of a consciousness on this head, talks of selection in the very midst of what appears to others an absolute contempt of it. Now, selection has an eye to effect, and is an acknowledgment that what is always at hand, though it may be equally natural, is not equally pleasing. Who are to be the judges, then, between him and his faults ? Those, I think, who, delighted with his nature, and happy to see and to allow that he has merits of his own superior to his felicitous imitations of Milton, (for the latter, after all, though admired by some as his real excellence, are only the occasional and perhaps unconscious tributes of his admiration,) are yet dissatisfied and mortified with such encounterings of the bellman, as Harry Gill and We are Seven -who think that in some of the effusions called Moods of My Own Mind, he mistakes the commonest process of reflection for its result, and the ordinary, every-day musings of any lover of the fields, for original thinking; who are of opinion, in short, that there is an extreme in nature as well as in art, and that this extreme, though not equally removed from the point of perfection, is as different from what it ought to be, and what nature herself intended it to be, as the ragged horse in the desert is to the beautiful creature under the Arab, or the dreamer in a hermitage to the waking philosopher in society.
To conclude this inordinate note: Mr. Wordsworth, in objecting to one extreme, has gone to another, the natural commencement, perhaps, of all revolutions. He thinks us over active, and would make us over contemplative-a fault 'not likely to extend very widely, but which ought still to be deprecated for the sake of those to whom it would. We are, he thinks, too much crowded together, and too subject, in consequence, to high-fevered tastes and worldly infections. Granted :-he, on the other hand, lives too much apart, and is subject, we think, to low-fevered tastes and solitary morbidities. But as
there is health in both of us, suppose both parties strike a bargain—he to come among us a little more, and get a true sense of our action—we to go out of ourselves a little oftener, and acquire a taste for his contemplation. We will make more holydays into nature with him ; but he, in fairness, must earn them, as well as ourselves, by sharing our working days :-we will emerge oftener into his fields, sit dangling our legs over his stiles, and cultivate a due respect for his daffodils; but he, on the other hand, must grow a little better acquainted with our streets, must put up with our lawyers, and even find out a heart or so among our politicians :-in short, we will recollect that we have hearts and brains, and will feel and ponder a little more to purify us as spirits ; but he will be good enough, in return, to cast an eye on his hands and muscles, and consider that the putting these to their purposes is necessary to complete our part in this world as organized bodies.
Here is the good to be done on both sides ; and as society, I believe, would be much bettered in consequence, so there is no man, I am persuaded, more capable than Mr. Wordsworth, upon a better acquaintance with society, to do it the service. Without that acquaintance, his reputation in poetry may be little more salutary than that of an Empedocles in philosophy, or a Saint Francis in religion :-with it, he might revive the spirit, the glory, and the utility of a Shakspeare.
(21) But wrath seiz'd Apollo, and turning again,
"} hatever,” he cried, "were the faults of such men,
This alludes to the insight which Dryden had into the higher species of poetry, without its making him lose sight of the powers he really possessed. If he did not reach to the former, he saw what it was, undazzled, and did not become a neglecter of his own substance, to indulge an idle hankering after that of wealthier minds. Yet the feebler and idler part of the poets here mentioned affect to speak of such men as Johnson and Dryden with contempt-of Johnson, who with all his defects and his bigotries, could master his morbidities to some purpose--and of Dryden, who, though deficient in sentiment, studied his art as they never did, and has written as they never can. I have heard, on good authority, that one of them calls Alexander's. Feast “ drunken song." It is much to be wished that the sobrieties of the present laureat could produce such another. The song may be drunk, but it is
(22) That sight and that music might not be sustain'd
But by those who a glory like Dryden's had gain'd.
It is not intended to say here that some of the poets in the text are not really of a more poetical
complexion than Dryden, for I believe they are ; but only that they have not yet produced what in the long run with posterity shall advance them before him. We see that they sustained much of the glory, though not all of it.
623) And old Peter Pindar turn'd pale, and suppressid,
With a deathbed sensation, a blasphemous jest.
It is a pity that this pleasant reprobate had not a little more principle in his writings, for he has really“a most original vein of humour-such a mixture of simplicity, archness, and power of language, with an air of Irish helplessness running throughout, as is irresistibly amusing, and constitutes him a class by himself. He is the Fontaine of lampooners. I know not whether any body ever thought of turning to him for his versification, but the lovers of the English heroic would be pleased, as well as surprised, to find in his management of it a more easy and various music than in much higher poets.
(24) Tom Campbell's with willow and poplar was twind,
And Southey's with mountain-ash pluck'd in the nind,
The meaning of all these intercoronations is not as obvious, I am afraid, as it might be. The poplar is intended to imply a kind of artificial ap