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This is one side of the picture; and characterizes sufficiently the satirical vein of our author. But the other is the most extensive and important. In rejecting the vulgar sources of interest in poetical narratives, and redueing his ideal persons to the standard of reality, Mr. Crabbe does by no means seek to extinguish the sparks of human sympathy within us, or to throw any damp on the curiosity with which we naturally explore the characters of each other. On the contrary, he has afforded new and more wholesome food for all those propensities—and, by placing before us those details which our pride or fastidiousness is so apt to overlook, has disclosed, in all their truth and simplicity, the native and unadulterated workings of those affections which are at the bottom of all social interest, and are really rendered less touching by the exaggerations of more ambitious artists-while he exhibits, with admirable force and endless variety, all those combinations of passions and opinions, and all that cross-play of selfishness and vanity, and indolence and ambition, and habit and reason, which make up the intellectual character of individuals, and present to every one an instructive picture of his neighbour or himself. Seeing, by the perfection of his art, the master-passions in their springs, and the high capacities in their rudiments-and having acquired the gift of tracing all the propensities and marking tendencies of our plastic nature, in their first slight indications, or from the very disguises they so often love to assume, he does not need, in order to draw out his characters in all their life and distinctness, the vulgar demonstration of those striking and decided actions by which their maturity is proclaimed even to the careless and inattentive;-but delights to point out to his readers the seeds or tender filaments of those talents and feelings and singularities which wait only for occasion and opportunity to burst out and astonish the world-and to accustom them to trace, in characters and actions apparently the most ordinary, the self-same attributes that, under other circumstances, would attract universal attention, and furnish themes for the most popular and impassioned descriptions.
JOHN WILSON, as a poet, is one of the Lakists. He has the same predilection for engrafting powerful emotion on ordinary occurrences, and the same tendency to push all his emotions a great deal too far-the same disdain of all worldly enjoyments and pursuits, and the same occasional mistakes, as to energy and simplicity of diction, which characterise the works of his predecessors. But he differs from them in this very important particular, that though he does generally endeavour to raise a train of lofty and pathetic sensations upon very trifling incidents and familiar objects, and frequently pursues them to a great height of exaggeration, he is scarcely ever guilty of the offence of building them upon a foundation that is ludicrous or purely fantastic, The most striking characteristic, as well as the great charm, of his poems, is the spirit of warm and unaffected philanthropy which breathes over every page of them-that delighted tenderness with which the writer dwells on the bliss of childhood, and the dignity of female innocence, and that young enthusiasm which leads him to luxuriate in the des cription of beautiful nature and the joys of a life of retirement. The Isle of Palms, Wilson's principal poem, is a strange, wild story of two lovers that were wrecked in the Indian Sea, and marvellously saved on an uninha
bited, but lovely Island, when all the rest of the crew were drowned;-of their living there, in peace and blessedness for six or seven years-and being at last taken off, with a lovely daughter, who had come to cheer their solitude, by an English ship of war, and landed in the arms of the lady's mother, who had passed the long interval of their absence in one unremitting agony of hope and despair.
THE most remarkable characteristic of COLERIDGE's poetry, is, that its simplicity and ease are admirably blended with great richness of expression, and with continual harmony and elegance. Even the faulty metre of his verses seems to be calculated. It is music in which the rules of composition are violated, but which is, nevertheless, perfectly appropriate to the sentiment it is intended to express. There is something very fantastic in Coleridge's rhythm, when his subjects are borrowed from the phantasmagoria of his own dreams. His philosophic fragments have not the solemn and somewhat monotonous tone of Wordsworth; they present the energy of Milton, and the beauty of Shakspeare. The reveries of love are, in Coleridge's verses, described with captivating melancholy and simplicity. Few writers have better understood the delicacy of that passion. Coleridge has represented its most poetic ideality, and even to the emotions of the senses he has given the language of the imagination. It is he who makes a lover say, when speaking of his mistress
Her voice, that even in her mirthful mood,
The little poem of Genevieve or Love abounds in touches no less charming. It is a sweet picture of the metaphysics of first love, and possesses a great deal of that grace which has been so highly admired in Dante's Qual giorno no leggiamo mai.
Love was one of Wordsworth's collection of lyrical ballads; but Coleridge subsequently separated his works from those of his friend. According to the plan mutually agreed upon between them, Coleridge was to make choice of imaginary heroes and subjects, without, however, renouncing the advantage of imparting to them a degree of interest and an air of probability, sufficient to obtain from his readers what he terms poetic faith, that is to say, the voluntary suspension of the critical spirit of incredulous reason. The Ancient Mariner is Coleridge's best ballad. It is a whimsical conception; but we cannot, like the author's friends, pronounce it to be at once astonishing and original. It is, they affirm, a poem which must be felt, admired, and meditated upon, but which cannot possibly be described, analyzed, or criticised.
WORDSWORTH may want the intense power and energy of Byron; he may be equally deficient in the elegant sportiveness of imagination which distinguishes the poetry of Moore; in beauty of description, and force of illustra
tion, Scott has far surpassed him; and there is an enthusiasm about the early productions of Southey's muse, which gives them an airiness and attraction, not to be found in his. Wordsworth, however, has excellencies peculiarly his own, and they are abundantly sufficient to give an immortal verdure to the laurels acquired by his genius. Slowly but surely he has gained a place in the very first rank of those great spirits, whose extraordinary talents render the age illustrious. Out of a thousand persons who read Lord Byron, there are ten who read Wordsworth; but out of these ten, there are, perhaps, six who assign to him the very highest rank among poets. He is the least popular of all the English poets; but, at the same time, he excites the highest degree of enthusiasm among his own admirers.
Wordsworth is at the head of the LAKE-SCHOOL, which includes Southey, Coleridge, Wilson, and many others of inferior merit, and is so called because all the poets belonging to it either reside, or have resided, near the lakes of Westmoreland and Cumberland. Though united together by the bonds of friendship, rather than by the doctrines of their particular poetic theory, yet they may, nevertheless, be regarded as the members of a sect.
The poets of the lake-school reserve all their admiration for the authors of the Elizabethan age, and find nothing but a void in English literature from the time of Milton and Jeremy Taylor, up to Cowper. They affect to view the beauties of nature with a degree of enthusiasm, of which the hearts of all are susceptible, except, as they pretend, those of the great mass of poets, who, blinded by false systems, discover only conventional charms in the finest natural scenery. Amidst silence and solitude, on the bosom of lakes, or in shady groves, their souls seem to mingle with the universal spirit of nature; they feel an invisible and ineffable influence, which exalts, delights, and purifies them. There is a mysticism in their feelings which bears some analogy to the Pantheism of Pythagoras. For this reason the lake-poets are called the Quakers and Methodists of English poetry. Every object of nature to them presents the varied expression of an intellectual power, and they attribute not only a physical, but a moral existence to the most trivial as well as to the grandest object in the creation. They regard the ocean as endowed with feelings and passions; the moon has her caprices; comets, stars, and clouds, are governed by internal impulses. Coleridge, however, since he has become more exclusively philosophic, seems to have forsaken this fanciful theory. He even goes so far as to refute in his autobiography one of the poetic ideas of Wordsworth and Wilson, who suppose that the Deity delights in communing with the pure spirit of childhood. The lake-poets all agree in elevating the domestic virtues and amiable affections above brilliant and dangerous heroism. From them the mother, the daughter, the wife, and the sister, receive an homage as pure as the charm they diffuse over society. They would have the Muse of moral poetry invoked amidst the tumult of the world, like the voice of a sister or a friend calling us back to the innocent pleasures of infancy and home.
Of all the writers of the lake-school, Wordsworth comes nearest the idea which the imagination loves to form of an inspired poet; he has carried poetry back to its origin, and to him it is a system of religion; he has, as it were, obtained new revelations concerning the destiny of man. His contemplative soul has continually been occupied with the necessity of ideal perfection. He is the inventor of a sort of Christian Platonism, founded on the moral harmony of the universe. Ile shows us the moral imprint of the
finger of God on the humblest object of the creation, and endeavours to lead man to a sense of his dignity, by associating him with the idea of the Almighty. Though he does not always carry us along with him into the elevated sphere of his abstractions, there is nothing offensive in his superiority. He humbles himself with us before the majesty of God and the magnificence or mysteries of his works, and the feelings of the man are not annihilated by the high speculations of the philosopher. But the development of his sublime theories must be looked for in his grand poem of THE EXCURSION. This work is distinguished by so calm a spirit of philosophy, and such a tone of solemn simplicity, that to be properly enjoyed, it must be perused in a particular disposition of mind. It requires that concentration of the soul, that pious inspiration which is indispensable to appreciate the sublimity of a gloomy forest, or the solitude of a vast Gothic cathedral, feebly lighted by the glimmering rays which penetrate its long painted windows. The great charm of Wordsworth's poems is that they in some degree regenerate the heart, restoring to it all the freshness of its primitive sensations, and the independence of that age, when the acquisition of each new idea was a conquest which made it beat with joy, and when we were yet free from the commonplace restraints imposed by the world, in morality as well as poetry. The poet himself indicates, by the classification of his different poems, that his works are a poetic analysis of the feelings which external objects and an interchange of thoughts or affections awaken in the heart and the understanding of childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. He brings us back to our most trivial sensations; but he gives at the same time a meaning and a voice to those sublime, though sometimes obscure, aspirations which the wonders of the creation awaken in the least poetic mind. Many of Wordsworth's sonnets present grand images inspired by the events of the age, and are by turns prophetic visions of the future, and sublime commentaries on the past.
Wordsworth has been thought to have more affinity to Milton than any other poet. If this is the case, the affinity is rather in manner than in substance. Milton has no idealism, not even in Paradise Regained, where there was most scope for it. His poetry is, for the most part, quite literal; and the objects he describes have all a certain definiteness and individuality, which separates them from the infinite. He has often endeavoured to present images, where every thing should have been lost in sentiment. It is generally agreed, that among the most successful parts of Paradise Lost are those which represent the character of the fallen angel; and yet these sublime and tragical soliloquies are founded chiefly on personal feeling; which, although it may be made a source of consummate pathos and dramatic beauty, is certainly not the region of the human mind, from whence the highest possible impressions are to be drawn. Terrible acts of divine power, and, on the other hand, force of will, and obdurate pride in the rebel spirits, are the highest moral elements exhibited; but, if we look to what composes some of the finest passages in Wordsworth, we shall be inclined (theoretically at least) to prefer them to the best of Milton, as conveying more exalted meaning, whether the poetical merit of the vehicle be equal or not. The sublimity drawn from terror, collision, tumult, or discord, of any kind, has always the disadvantage of being transient; and, therefore, cannot be considered as equal to those openings into immutable brightness and harmony, which are sometimes to be met with in Wordsworth. One beauty cannot fail to strike the reader of his poetry; and that is the perfect homogeneousness of its spirit. A systematic correspondence pervades
the whole, so that the perusal of one piece frequently leads the reader's own mind into a tract of thought, which is afterwards found to be developed by the poet himself, in some other performance. The defects of his poetry originate in the same system of thought which produces its beauties. They are not the result of casual whims, or imperfections of taste. Certain great convictions of sentiment have so completely pervaded his mind, as to produce a degree of consistency in all its emanations, that we vainly look for in works founded upon observation. The reverential awe, and the far extended sympathy with which he looks upon the whole system of existing things, and the silent moral connexions which he supposes to exist among them, are visible throughout all his writings. He tunes his mind to nature almost with a feeling of religious obligation; and where others behold only beautiful colours, making their appearance according to optical laws, or feel pleasant physical sensations resulting from a pure atmosphere, or from the odoriferous exhalations of herbage, or enjoy the pleasure of measuring an extended prospect, as an amusement for the eye, this poet thinks he traces something more in the spectacle than the mere reflection of his own feelings, painted upon external objects, by means of the association of ideas; or, at least, seems to consider what we then behold as the instantaneous creation of the mind.
Wordsworth pours into his personages the strong life and moving breath of genius, but they have little of the air of the mart or the farm-yard. They have, indeed, all that which is so completely wanting in the heroes of Lord Byron, the absolute truth of being, the nature which is so uniform, under so many varieties; they are made up of the elements of universal, but want the accidents of social, humanity. Wordsworth appears to take no pleasure in watching the entangled threads of passion which bind together rowds with such many-coloured, yet scarcely distinguishable feelings. He retires from the conflict of mingled and heterogeneous interests. He loves to muse by winding rivers; but the tumultuous current of men's ordinary motives has little for his contemplation. He delights to gaze upon cities; but it is when "all that mighty heart is lying still. He cares not to trace through all the eagerness of men's selfish pursuits a subtle vein of better feeling; or to look with keen and searching eye upon the follies and fluctuations of society. He diffuses his affections over every thing around him; and lets them be restricted by no arbitrary limits, and confined within no sectarian enclosures. He looks round upon the world and upon man with eyes of serene rejoicing; and traces all the workings of that spirit of good of whose influence he is conscious in his own heart. But from his want of that mastery over forms which was never possessed so perfectly by any one as by Shakspeare, he cannot make so intelligible to all men, as he otherwise might, the depth and value of his own feelings. This has prevented his works from becoming more powerful instruments than they can for ages be, in diffusing the free philosophy so conspicuous throughout his writings. For those, however, who really wish to understand the mind, and sympathise with the affections, of this glorious poet, there is nothing in his works of rugged or ungrateful The language is the most translucent of atmospheres for the thought. The illustrations are furnished by a sensibility of perception which has made his memory a store-house of substantial riches. images are moreover the types of none but the truest and most healthy feelings; and the ethics of this most philosophical Christian may all be summed up in the one principle of love to God and to his creatures. Like those augels who are made a flame of fire, he burns with a calm and holy