« PreviousContinue »
good-natured laugh at the spirit of doleful egotism, and at the recurrence of favorite phrases, with the double defect of being at once trite and licentious ;—the second was on low creeping language and thoughts,—under the pretence of simplicity; the third, the phrases of which were borrowed entirely from my own poems, on the indiscriminate use of elaborate and swelling lan. ) guage and imagery. The reader will find them in the note"
33 SONNET 1.
PENSIVE at eve, on the hard world I mused,
Oh I do love thee, meek Simplicity!
And this reft house is that, the which he built,
below, and will I trust regard them as reprinted for biographical purposes alone, and not for their poetic merits. So general at that time, and so decided was the opinion concerning the characteristic vices of my style, that a celebrated physician (now, alas ! no more) speaking of me in other respects with his usual kindness to a gentleman, who was about to meet me at a dinner party, could not however resist giving him a hint not to mention The house that Jack built in my presence, for “ that I was as sore as a boil about that sonnet;" he not knowing that I was myself the author of it.
Did he not see her gleaming thro the glade !
The following anecdote will not be wholly out of place here, and may perhaps amuse the reader. An amateur performer in verse expressed to a common friend a strong desire to be introduced to me, but hesitated in accepting my friend's immediate offer, on the score that "he was, he must acknowledge, the author of a confounded severe epigram on my Ancient Mariner, which had given me great pain.” I assured my friend that, if the epigram was a good one, it would only increase my desire to become acquainted with the author, and begged to hear it recited : when, to my no less surprise than amusement, it proved to be one which I had myself some time before written and inserted in the Morning Post, to wit
To the Author of the Ancient Mariner.
Your poem must eternal be,
Supposed irritability of men of genius brought to the test of facts-Causes
and occasions of the charge-Its injustice.
I Have often thought, that it would be neither uninstructive nor unamusing to analyse, and bring forward into distinct consciousness, that complex feeling, with which readers in general take part against the author, in favor of the critic; and the readiness with which they apply to all poets the old sarcasm of Horace upon the scribblers of his time :
genus irritabile vatum.
A debility and dimness of the imaginative power, and a consequent necessity of reliance on the immediate impressions of the senses, do, we know well, render the mind liable to superstitiou and fanaticism. Having a deficient portion of internal and proper warmth, minds of this class seek in the crowd circum fana for a warmth in common, which they do not possess singly.! Cold and phlegmatic in their own nature, like damp hay, they heat and inflame by co-acervation ; or, like bees, they become restless and irritable through the increased temperature of col. lected multitudes. Hence the German word for fanaticism (such. at least, was its original import) is derived from the swarming of bees, namely, schwärmen, schwärmerey. The passion being in an inverse proportion to the insight,—that the more vivid, as this the less distinct-anger is the inevitable consequence. The absence of all foundation within their own minds for that, which they yet believe both true and indispensable to their safety and happiness, cannot but produce an uneasy state of feeling, an involuntary sense of fear from which nature has no means of
rescuing herself but by anger. Experience informs us that the first defence of weak minds is to recriminate.
There's no philosopher but sees,
and fear are one disease;
But where the ideas are vivid, and there exists an endless power of combining and modifying them, the feelings and affections blend more easily and intimately with these ideal creations, than with the objects of the senses ; the mind is affected by thoughts, rather than by things; and only then feels the requisite interest even for the most important events and accidents, when, by means of meditation, they have passed into thoughts. The sanity of the mind is between superstition with fanaticism on the one hand, and enthusiasm with indifference and a diseased slow. ness to action on the other. For the conceptions of the mind may be so vivid and adequate, as to preclude that impulse to the realizing of them, which is strongest and most restless in those who possess more than mere talent (or the faculty of appropriating and applying the knowledge of others),-yet still want something of the creative and self-sufficing power of absolute genius. For this reason, therefore, they are men of commanding genius. While the former rest content between thought and reality, as it were in an intermundium, of which their own living spirit supplies the substance, and their imagination the ever. varying form; the latter must impress their preconceptions on the world without, in order to present them back to their own view with the satisfying degree of clearness, distinctness, and individuality. These, in tranquil times, are formed to exhibit a perfect poem in palace, or temple, or landscape-garden; or tale of romance in canals that join sea with sea, or in walls of rock, which, shouldering back the billows, imitate the power, and supply the benevolence of nature to sheltered navies ; or, in aqueducts that, arching the wide vale from mountain to moun. tain, give a Palmyra to the desert. But, alas! in times of tumult they are the men destined to come forth as the shaping spirit of ruin, to destroy the wisdom of ages in order to substitute the
fancies of a day, and to change kings and kingdoms, as the wind shifts and shapes the clouds.' The records of biography seem to confirm this theory. The men of the greatest genius, as far as we can judge from their own works, or from the accounts of their contemporaries, appear to have been of calm and tranquil temper in all that related to themselves. In the inward assur. ance of permanent fame, they seem to have been either indiffer. ent or resigned with regard to immediate reputation. Through all the works of Chaucer there reigns a cheerfulness, a manly hilarity, which makes it almost impossible to doubt a correspon. dent habit of feeling in the author himself.' Shakspeare's even. ness and sweetness of temper were almost proverbial in his own age. That this did not arise from ignorance of his own comparative greatness, we have abundant proof in his Sonnets, which could scarcely have been known to Pope, when he asserted, that our great bard—
1 Of old things all are over old,
Of good things none are good enough :-
I, too, will have my kings, that take
Wordsworth's Rob Roy.* ? [I take unceasing delight in Chaucer. His manly cheerfulness is especially delicious to me in my old age. How exquisitely tender he is, and yet how perfectly free from the least touch of sickly melancholy or morbid drooping! The sympathy of the poet with the subjects of his poetry is particularly remarkable in Shakspeare and Chaucer; but what the first effects by a strong act of imagination and mental metamorphosis, the last does without any effort, merely by the inborn kindly joyousness of his nature. Table Talk, March 15, 1834, pp. 290, 2d edit. Ed.]
3 Pope was under the common error of his age, an error far from being sufficiently exploded even at the present day It consists (as I explained at large, and proved in detail in my public lectures*) in mistaking for the essentials of the Greek stage certain rules, which the wise poets imposed
* PoeWorks, Vol. III., p. 127.
: (See the Author's Literary Remains, Vol. II., and generally the fragments of his loc tores and notes on Shakspeare collected in that volume. Ed.)