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ernment, or than the washings of a Pharisee to devotion; then, assuredly, Pope may be a more correct poet than Shakspeare; and, if the code were a little altered, Colley Cibber might be a more correct poet than Pope. But it may well be doubted whether this kind of correctness be a merit; nay, whether it be not an absolute fault.
It would be amusing to make a digest of the irrational laws which bad critics have framed for the government of poets. First in celebrity and in absurdity stand the dramatic unities of place and time. No human being has ever been able to find anything that could, even by courtesy, be called an argument for these unities, except that they have been deduced from the general practice of the Greeks. It requires no very profound examination to discover that the Greek dramas, often admirable as compositions, are, as exhibitions of human character and human life, far inferior to the English plays of the age of Elizabeth. Every scholar knows that the dramatic part of the Athenian tragedies was at first subordinate to the lyrical part. It would, therefore, have been little less than a miracle, if the laws of the Athenian stage had been found to suit plays in which there was no chorus. All the greatest masterpieces of the dramatic art have been composed in direct violation of the unities, and could never have been composed if the unities had not been violated. It is clear, for example, that such a character as that of Hamlet could never have been developed within the limits to which Alfieri confined himself. Yet such was the reverence of literary men during the last century for these unities, that Johnson, who, much to his honor, took the opposite side, was, as he says, 'frighted at his own temerity;' and 'afraid to stand against the authorities which might be produced against him.'
There are other rules of the same kind without end. 'Shakspeare,' says Rymer,' ought not to have made Othello
black; for the hero of a tragedy ought always to be white.' 'Milton,' says another critic, ought not to have taken Adam for his hero; for the hero of an epic poem ought always to be victorious.' Milton,' says another, ought not to have put so many similes into his first book; for the first book of an epic poem ought always to be the most unadorned. There are no similes in the first book of the Iliad.' 'Milton,' says another, ought not to have placed in an epic poem such lines as these :
"I also erred in overmuch admiring."
And why not? The critic is ready with a reason
'As when we lived untouch'd with these disgraces,
Another law of heroic poetry, which, fifty years ago, was considered as fundamental, was, that there should be a pause, a comma at least, at the end of every couplet. was also provided that there should never be a full stop except at the end of a couplet. Well do we remember to have heard a most correct judge of poetry revile Mr. Rogers for the incorrectness of that most sweet and graceful passage,
''T was thine, Maria, thine, without a sigh,
At midnight in a sister's arms to die,
Sir Roger Newdigate is fairly entitled, we ranked among the great critics of this school.
think, to be
He made a
law that none of the poems written for the Prize which he established at Oxford should exceed fifty lines. This law seems to us to have at least as much foundation in reason as any of those which we have mentioned; nay, much more; for the world, we believe, is pretty well agreed in thinking that the shorter a prize-poem is, the better.
We do not see why we should not make a few more rules of the same kind, - why we should not enact that the number of scenes in every act shall be three, or some multiple of three; that the number of lines in every scene shall be an exact square; that the dramatis personæ shall never be more or fewer than sixteen; and that, in heroic rhymes, every thirty-sixth line shall have twelve syllables. If we were to lay down these canons, and to call Pope, Goldsmith, and Addison, incorrect writers for not having complied with our whims, we should act precisely as those critics act, who find incorrectness in the magnificent imagery and the varied music of Coleridge and Shelley.
The correctness, which the last century prized so much, resembled the correctness of those pictures of the garden of Eden which we see in old Bibles, an exact square, enclosed by the rivers Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates, each with a convenient bridge in the centre, - rectangular beds of flowers, -a long canal, neatly bricked and railed in, the tree of knowledge, clipped like one of the limes behind the Tuileries, standing in the centre of the grand alley, the snake twined round it, the man on the right hand, the woman on the left, and the beasts drawn up in an exact circle round them. In one sense the picture is corsquares are correct; the
rect enough. That is to say, the circles are correct; the man and woman are in a most correct line with the tree; and the snake forms a most correct spiral.
But if there were a painter so gifted, that he should place
in the canvass that glorious paradise, seen by the interior eye of him whose outward sight had failed with long watching and laboring for liberty and truth,— if there were a painter who could set before us the mazes of the sapphire brook, the lake with its fringe of myrtles, the flowery meadows, the grottoes overhung by vines, the forests shining with Hesperian fruit, and with the plumage of gorgeous birds, the massy shade of that nuptial bower which showered down roses on the sleeping lovers, — what should we think of a connoisseur who should tell us that this painting, though finer than the absurd picture in the old Bible, was not so correct? Surely we should answer — It is both finer and more correct; and it is finer because it is more correct. It is not made up of correctly drawn diagrams; but it is a correct painting, a worthy representation of that which it is intended to represent.
It is not in the fine arts alone that this false correctness is prized by narrow-minded men, by men who cannot distinguish means from ends, or what is accidental from what is essential. M. Jourdain admired correctness in fencing. 'You had no business to hit me then. You must never thrust in quart till you have thrust in tierce.' M. Tomès liked correctness in medical practice. 'I stand up for Artemius. That he killed his patient is plain enough. But still he acted quite according to rule. A man dead is a man dead; and there is an end of the matter. But if rules are to be broken, there is no saying what consequences may follow.' We have heard of an old German officer, who was a great admirer of correctness in military operations. He used to revile Bonaparte for spoiling the science of war, which had been carried to such exquisite perfection by Marshal Daun. In my youth we used to march and countermarch all the summer without gaining or losing a square league, and then we went into winter quarters. And now
comes an ignorant, hot-headed young man, who flies about from Boulogne to Ulm, and from Ulm to the middle of Moravia, and fights battles in December. The whole system of his tactics is monstrously incorrect.' The world is of opinion, in spite of critics like these, that the end of fencing is to hit, that the end of medicine is to cure, that the end of war is to conquer, and that those means are the most correct which best accomplish the ends.
And has poetry no end, no eternal and immutable principles? Is poetry, like heraldry, mere matter of arbitrary regulation? The heralds tell us that certain scutcheons and bearings denote certain conditions, and that to put colors on colors, or metals on metals, is false blazonry. If all this were reversed; if every coat of arms in Europe were new fashioned; if it were decreed that or should never be placed but on argent, or argent but on or; that illegitimacy should be denoted by a lozenge, and widowhood by a bend, the new science would be just as good as the old science, because both the new and the old would be good for nothing. The mummery of Portcullis and Rouge Dragon, as it has no other value than that which caprice has assigned to it, may well submit to any laws which caprice may impose on it. But it is not so with that great imitative art, to the power of which, all ages, the rudest and the most enlightened, bear witness. Since its first great masterpieces were produced, everything that is changeable in this world has been changed. Civilization has been gained, lost, gained again. Religions, and languages, and forms of government, and usages of private life, and modes of thinking, all have undergone a succession of revolutions. Everything has passed away but the great features of nature, the heart of man, and the miracles of that art, of which it is the office to reflect back the heart of man and the features of nature. Those two strange old poems, the wonder of ninety genera