Page images

the superinduction of reality. Thus we speak of the essence, and essential properties of a circle; but we do not 'therefore assert, that any thing, which really exists, is mathematically circular. Thus too, without any tautology we contend for the existence of the Supreme Being ; that is, for a reality correspondent to the idea. There is, next, a secondary use of the word essence, in which it signifies the point or ground of contra-distinction between two modifications of the same substance or subject. Thus we should be allowed to say, that the style of architecture of Westminster Abbey is essentially different from that of Saint Paul, even though both had been built with blocks cut into the same form, and from the same quarry. Only in this latter seuse of the term must it have been denied by Mr. Wordsworth (for in this sense alone is it affirmed by the general opinion) that the language of poetry (i. e. the formal construction, or architecture, of the words and phrases) is essentially different from that of prose.

Now the burthen of the proof lies with the oppugner, not with the supporters of the common belief. Mr. Wordsworth, in consequence, assigns as the proof of his position, “ that not only the language of a large portion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in

vo respect differ from that of good prose; but likewise that some of the most interesting parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the language of prose, when prose is well written. The truth of this assertion might be demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost all the poetical writings even of Milton himself.” He then quotes Gray's sonnet

[ocr errors]

" In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,

And-reddening Phæbus lifts his golden fire ;
The birds in vain their amorous descant join,
Or cheerful fields resume their green attire ;
These ears alas ! for other notes repine ;

A different object do these eyes require ;
My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine,
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire !
Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
And new born pleasure brings to happier men:
The fields to all their wonted tributes bear,
To warm their little loves the birds complain.
I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,


more because I weep in vain ;"

and adds the following remark :-" It will easily be perceived, that the only part of this Sonnet which is of any value, is the lines: printed in italics. It is equally obvious, that except in the rhyme, and in the use of the single word “fruitless” for fruitlessly, which is so far a defect, the language of these lines does in no respect differ from that of prose.”

An idealist defending his system by the fact, that when asleep we often believe ourselves

awake, was well answered by his plain neighbour, “Ah, but when awake do we ever believe ourselves asleep?"- Things identical must be convertible. The preceding passage seems to rest on a similar sophism. For the question is not, whether there may not occur in prose an order of words, which would be equally proper in a poem ; nor whether there are not beautiful lines and sentences of frequent occurrence in good poems, which would be equally becoming as well as beautiful in good prose; for neither the one or the other has ever been either denied or doubted by any one.

The true question must be, whether there are not modes of expression, a construction, and an order of sentences, which are in their fit and natural place in a serious prose composition, but would be disproportionate and heterogeneous in metrical poetry; and, vice versa, whether in the language of a serious poem there may not be an arrangement both of words and sentences, and a use and selection of (what are called) figures of speech, both as to their kind, their frequency, and their occasions, which on a subject of equal weight would be vicious and alien in correct and manly prose. I contend, that in both cases this unfitness of each for the place of the other frequently will and ought to exist.

And first from the origin of metre. This I would trace to the balance in the mind effected by


[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

that spontaneous effort which strives to hold in check the workings of passion. It might be easily explained likewise in what manner this salutary antagonism is assisted by the very state, which it counteracts; and how this balance of antagonists became organized into metre (in the usual acceptation of that term) by a supervening act of the will and judgement, consciously and for the foreseen purpose of pleasure. Assuming these principles, as the data of our argument, we deduce from them two legitimate

conditions, which the critic is entitled to expect ' in every metrical work. First, that as the elements of metre owe their existence to a state of increased excitement, so the metre itself should be accompanied by the natural language of excitement. Secondly, that as these elements are formed into metre artificially, by a voluntary act, with the design and for the purpose of blending delight with emotion, so the traces of present volition should throughout the metrical language be proportionally discernible. Now these two conditions must be reconciled and co-present. There must be not only a partnership, but a union ; an interpenetration of passion and of will, of spontaneous impulse and of voluntary purpose. Again, this union can be manifested only in a frequency of forms and figures of speech (originally the offspring of passion, but now the adopted children of power)

greater, than would be desired or' endured, where the emotion is not voluntarily encouraged, and kept up for the sake of that pleasure, which such emotion so tempered and mastered by the will is found capable of communicating. It not only dictates, but of itself tends to produce, a more frequent employment of picturesque and vivifying language, than would be natural in any other case, in which there did not exist, as there does in the

present, a previous and well understood, though tacit, compact between the poet and his reader, that the latter is entitled to expect, and the former bound to supply this species and degree of pleasurable excitement. We may in some measure apply to this union the answer of POLIXENES, in the Winter's Tale, to PERDITA'S neglect of the streaked gilly-flowers, because she had heard it said,

“ There is an art which in their piedness shares
“ With great creating nature.

Pol: Say there be:
“ Yet nature is made better by no mean,
“ But nature makes that mean. So ev'n that art,
“ Which you say adds to nature, is an art,
“ That nature makes! You see, sweet maid, we marry
A gentler scyon to the wildest stock :
“ And make conceive a bark of ruder kind

By bud of pobler race. This is an art, “ Which does mend nature-change it rather; but “The art itself is nature.”

« PreviousContinue »