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SHE sees her lover yet!—From yon high tower, (Her bright locks floating on the morning wind Like clouds beneath the sun,) with wildered mind And heart that flutters like a breeze-stirred flower, She takes her farewell look. Oh, till this hour She knew not how she loved Her soul was blind To half her hero's worth, and now can find
Nor words nor signs to wreak her passion's power.
The last embrace is o'er. Where yet she stands
Where o'er the far hills wind the warrior bands.
* Written to illustrate an engraving in the Bengal Annual.
That good poets are sometimes bad judges of excellence in their own art, may seem at first thought an untenable position, but it can easily be maintained by a reference to the history of literature. They sing with the tongues of angels, but they speak like mortals. When they quit their ethereal elevation and alight upon the common ground of criticism, they often stumble upon errors that are avoided by ordinary men. They are safer on their wings than on their feet. Notwithstanding their occasional inspiration, they are made of the same flesh and blood as other people, and are liable to the same prejudices and infirmities. Jealousy, envy, self-conceit, an exclusive cultivation of some particular department of his art, or a strong idiosyncracy of mind, or some early association, may as easily occasion an obliquity of judgment in the poet as in the mechanic. An author has an open or secret bias towards that branch of composition which he has most practised himself, and in which he is conscious that he best succeeds. This feeling too often influences his judgment upon the works of writers whose style and subject are essentially different from his own. To support his preferences, he invents or adopts certain theories or canons that would confine all literary merit within the narrow limits of his own sect or school. It is thus that the natural brotherhood of poets has been divided into innumerable parties which regard each other with avowed hostility and contempt. They are blinded to all excellence that is not in some degree akin to their own. When called upon for
their judgment upon the poetry that is opposite to their favorite style, they are by no means to be trusted”. It is only when the production to be criticised is congenial to their own peculiar taste that they are ready to observe and appreciate the minutest beauties.
“Fondly they think they honour merit then,
It is this spirit of exclusiveness that is the besetting sin of poet. critics, as it is indeed of all men in their own particular arts. In this respect the poets are not worse than others. I am not now waging a war against those inspired benefactors of mankind. I should be ashamed indeed to be guilty of any thing so contrary to my nature. I merely wish to show that we must not too confidently adopt a poet's criticism upon poetry, though the world in general are apt to regard it as an authority that is no more to be disputed than a Papal Bull.
In support of the foregoing remarks, I shall proceed to notice some of the most glaring mistakes of poetical critics;–of the similar errors and absurdities of distinguished prose-writers, I shall say nothing upon this occasion. It would lead me into too wide a field.
One of the most celebrated of the poet-critics of modern times was Doctor Samuel Johnson, who displayed extraordinary sagacity and acuteness in analysing the merits of the kind of poetry that was most allied to his own, but who could never pass beyond
that limit, with any degree of safety or success. He could dissect with the most severe precision the unmeaning nonsense and cold extravagances of the writers whom he has so oddly styled the “metaphysical poets,” though he could ill appreciate their occasional flashes of genuine inspiration ; and no critic has written more sensibly upon the character of Pope and Dryden. But Milton, and Gray, and Collins were out of his jurisdiction. They made an appeal to his taste and imagination that he could not answer. He had no eye for their richly colored visions, and no ear for their divinest music. He was proof against the “enchanting ravishment” that “would take the prisoned soul” of a
* The following passage respecting Darwin in one of Anna Seward's lettersis very characteristic of the jealousy of poets. “Since he commenced poet professed, Darwin is become notoriously guilty of the narrow-souled jealousy, Till then he was a warm admirer and generous encomiast of poetic effluence, in what. ever form it might appear—now he dislikes odes—now he cannot endure sonnetsnow he will not read blank-verse—all this because the “Botanic Garden” is in the couplet measure;—and because it is every where picture and nothing but picture, sentiment and passion are, according to his decision, out of the province of the Muses, and are ‘best expressed in prose.’”
more sensitive critic and “lap it in Elysium.” Speaking entirely from his own feelings, he closes his review of Paradise Lost with the gothic assertion that its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. Of the Lycidas, which is so full of rich and varied melodies, he was of opinion that the diction was harsh and the numbers unpleasing. He once told Anna Seward that “he would hang a dog that read that poem twice.” “What then,” said Anna, “must become of me, who can say it by heart, and who often repeat it to myself with a delight which grows by what it feeds on ” “Die,” said Boswell's Bear, “in a surfeit of bad taste”.” This is surely, not only what the lady calls it, “awful impoliteness,” but a melancholy proof of Johnson's utter insensibility to some of the most exquisite charms of verse. He who could praise so highly the regular notes of Pope, had no ear for the varied movements of the majestic Milton. Of Milton's Sonnets (some of which are of such incomparable force and beauty) he has observed that “ of the best it can only be said that they are not bad.” Beattie tells us Dr. Johnson confessed to him that he never read Milton through till he was obliged to do it,
in order to gather words for his Dictionary; and that he spoke
* Dr. Joseph Warton has remarked, that “he who wishes to know, whether he has a true taste for poetry or not, should consider, whether he is highly delighted or not with the perusal of Milton's ‘Lycidas.'”