« AnteriorContinuar »
ralist is to a real porcupine, the remarks of greatest of human calamities, without once vio criticism are to the images of poetry. What lating the reverence due to it; at that discrimi. it so imperfectly decomposes, it cannot per- nating delicacy of touch which makes a characfectly reconstruct. It is evidently as impossi- ter exquisitely ridiculous without impairing its ble to produce an Othello or a Macbeth by re-worth, its grace, or its dignity. In Don Quixote versing an analytical process so defective as are several dissertations on the principles of it would be for an anatomist to form a living poetic and dramatic writing. No passages in man out of the fragments of his dissecting the whole work exhibit stronger marks of labour roum. In both cases, the vital principle eludes and attention; and no passages in any work the finest instruments, and vanishes in the with which we are acquainted are more worthvery instant in which its seat is touched. less and puerile. Inourtime they wouldscarcely Hence those who, trusting to their critical obtain admittance into the literary department skill, attempt to write poems, give us not im- of the Morning Post. Every reader of the Diages of things, but catalogues of qualities. vine Comedy must be struck by the veneration Their characters are allegories; not good men which Danie expresses for writers far inferior and bad men, but cardinal virtues and deadly to himself. He will not lift up his eyes from sins. We seem to have fallen among the ac- the ground in the presence of Brunetto, all quaintances of our old friend Christian: some- whose works are not worth the worst of his times we meet Mistrust and Timorous: some- own hundred cantos. He does not venture to times Mr. Hate-good and Mr. Love-lust; and walk in the same line with the bombastic Stathen again Prudence, Piety, and Charity. tius. His admiration of Virgil is absolute
That critical discernment is not sufficient to idolatry. If indeed it had been excited by the make men poets is generally allowed. Why elegant, splendid and harmonious diction of it should keep them from becoming poets, is the Roman poet, it would not have been altonot perhaps equally evident. But the fact is, gether unreasonable; but it is rather as an authat poetry requires not an examining, but a ihority on all points of philosophy, than as a believing frame of mind. Those feel it most, work of imagination, that he values the Æneid. and write it best, who forget that it is a work The most trivial passages he regards as oraof art; to whom its imitations, like the reali-cles of the highest authority, and of the most ties from which they are taken, are subjects recondite meaning. He describes his con. not for connoisseurship, but for tears and ductor as the sea of all wisdom, the sun which laughter, resentment and affection, who are too heals every disordered sight. As he judged of much under the influence of the illusion to ad- Virgil, the Italians of the fourteenth century mire the genius which has produced it; who judged of him ; they were proud of him; they are too much frightened for Ulysses in the praised him; they struck medals bearing his cave of Polyphemus, to care whether the pun head; they quarrelled for the honour of posabout Outis be good or bad; who forget that sessing his remains; they maintained professuch a person as Shakspeare ever existed, sors to expound his writings. But what they while they weep and curse with Lear. It is admired was not that mighty imagination by giving faith to the creations of the imagina- which called a new world into existence, and tion that a man becomes a poet. It is by treat- made all its sights and sounds familiar to the ing those creations as deceptions, and by re- eye and ear of the mind. They said little of solving them, as nearly as possible, into their those awful and lovely creations on which laelements, that he becomes a critic. In the ter critics delight to dwell-Farinata lifting moment in which the skill of the artist is per- his haughty and tranquil brow from his couch ceived, the spell of the art is broken.
of everlasting fire-the lion-like repose of SorThese considerations account for the absurd-dello-or the light which shone from the celes. ities into which the greatest writers have fal- tial smile of Beatrice. They extolled their len, when they have attempted to give general great poet for his smattering of ancient literarules for composition, or to pronounce judg- ture and history; for his logic and his divinity; ment on the works of others. They are unac- for his absurd physics, and his more absurd customed to analyze what they feel; they, metaphysics; for every thing but that in which therefore, perpetually refer their emotions to he pre-eminently excelled. Like the fool in causes which have not in the slightest degree the story, who ruined his dwelling by digging tended to produce them. They feel pleasure for gold, which, as he had dreamed, was conin reading a book. They never consider that cealed under its foundations, they laid waste this pleasure may be the effect of ideas, which one of the noblest works of human genius, by some unmeaning expression, striking on the seeking in it for buried treasures of wisdom, first link or a chain of associations, may have which existed only in their own wild reveries. called up in their own minds that they have The finest passages were little valued till they themselves furnished to the author the beauties had been debased into some monstrous alle. which they admire.
gory. Louder applause was given to the lecCervantes is the delight of all classes of ture on fate and free-will, or to the ridiculous readers. Every schoolboy thumbs to pieces astronomical theories, than to those crementhe most wretched translations of his romance, dous lines which disclose the secrets of the and knows the lantern jaws of the Knight-tower of hunger; or to that half-told tale c! errant, and the broad cheeks of the Squire, guilty love, so passionate and so full of tears. as well as the faces of his own playfellows. We do not mean to say that the contempo. The most experienced and fastidious judges raries of Dante read, with less emotion than are amazed at the perfection of that art which their descendants, of Ugolino groping among extracts inextinguishable laughter from the the wasted corpses of his children, or of Fran
cesca starting at the tremulous kiss, and drop-1, "Little more worth remembering occurred ping the fatal volume. Far from it. We be- during the play, at the end of which Jones asked ireve that they admired these things less than him which of the players he liked best. To ourselves, but that they felt them more. We this he answered, with some appearance of inshould perhaps say, that they felt them too much dignation at the question, the King, without to admire them. The progress of a nation from doubt.'--'Indeed, Mr. Fartridge,' says Mrs. Milbarbarism to civilization produces a change ler, “you are not of the same opinion with the similar to that which takes place during the lown; for they are all agreed that Hamlet is progress of an individual from infancy to ma- acied by the best player who was ever on the ture age. What man does not remember with stage.'—He the best player!' cries Partridge, regret the first time that he read Robinson Cru- with a contemptuous sneer; “why I could act soe? Then, indeed, lie was unable to appreci- as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen ate the powers of the writer; or rather, he nei- a ghost, I should have looked in the very same ther knew nor cared whether the book had a manner, and done just as he diil. And then, writer at all. He probably thought it not half to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, be. so fine as some rant of Macpherson about dark- tween him and his mother, where you told me browed Foldath, and white-bosomed Sirina- he acted so fine, why, any man, that is any dona. He now values Fingal and Temora good man, that had such a mother, would have only as showing with how little evidence a done exactly the same. I know you are only story may be believed, and with how little merit joking with me; but indeed, madam, though I. a book may be popular. Of the romance of never was at a play in London, yet I have seen Defoe he entertains the highest opinion. He acting before in the country, and the King for perceives the hand of a master in ten thousand my money; he speaks all his words distinctly, iouches, which formerly he passed by without and half as loud again as the other. Anybody notioe. But though he understands the merits may see he is an actor.' of the narrative better than formerly, he is far In this excellent passage Partridge is repreless interested by it. Xury, and Friday, and sented as a very bad theatrical critic.
But preily Poll, the boat with the shoulder-of-mut- none of those who laugh at him possess the ton sail, and the canoe which could not be tithe of his sensibility to theatrical excellence. brought down to the water's edge, the tent with He admires in the wrong place; but he trem its hedge and ladders, the preserve of kids, and bles in the right place. It is indeed because he the den where the old goat died, can never is so much excited by the acting of Garrick, again be to him the realities which they were. that he ranks him below the strutting, mouth
The days when his favourite volume set him ing performer, who personates the King. So, upon making wheel-barrows and chairs, upon we have heard it said, that in some parts of digging caves and fencing huts in the garden, Spain and Portugal, an actor who should recan never return. Such is the law of our na- present a depraved character sinely, instead of tare. Our judgment ripens, our imagination calling down the applauses of the audience, is decays. We cannot at once enjoy the flowers hissed and pelted without mercy. It would be of the spring of life and the fruits of its autumn, the same in England, if we, for one moment, the pleasures of close investigation and those thought that Shylock or lago was standing be. of agreeable error. We cannot sit at once in fore us. While the dramatic art was in its the front of the stage and behind the scenes. linfancy at Athens, it produced similar effects We cannot be under the illusion of the specta- 'on the ardent and imaginative spectators. It is cle, while we are watching the movements of said that they blamed Æschylus for frightening the ropes and pulley's which dispose it.
them into fils with his Furies. Herodotus tells The chapter in which Fielding describes the as, that when Phrynichus produced his trage. behaviour of Partridge at the theatre, affords so dy on the fall of Miletus, they fined him in a complete an illustration of our proposition, that penalty of a thousand drachmas, for torturing we cannot refrain from quoting some parts of it. their feelings by so pathetic an exhibition.
" Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick They did not regard him as a great artist, but which he had denied to Jones, and sell into so merely as a man who had given them pain. violent a trembling that his knees knocked When they woke from the distressing illusion, against each other. Jones asked him what ihey treated the author of it as they would was the matter, and whether he was afraid of have treated a messenger who should have the warrior upon the stage?—0, la, sir,' said brought them fatal and alarming tidings, which ne, ' I perceive now it is what you told me. I turned out to be false. In the same manner, a am not afraid of any thing, for I know it is but child screams with terror at the sight of a pera play; and if it was really a ghost, it could do son in an ugly mask. He has perhaps seen the one no barm at such a distance and in so much mask put on. But his imagination is too strong company; and yet if I was frightened, I am not for his reason, and he entreats that it may be the only person.'- Why, who,' cries Jones, taken off. cost thou take to be such a coward here besides We should act in the same manner, if the thyself??—Nay, you may call me a coward if grief and horror produced in us by works of you will; but if that little mith there upon the the imagination amounted to real torture. stage is not frightened, I never saw any man But in us these emotions are comparatively trightened in my life.' ... He sat with his eyes languid. They rarely affect our appetite or our fixed partly on the Ghost and partly on Hamlet, sleep. They leave us sufficiently at ease to ani with his mouth open; the same passions trace them to their causes, and to estimate the which succeeded each other in Hamlet, suc- powers which produce them. Our attention is reeded likewise in him.
speedily diverted from the images which cal.
forth our tears, to the art by which those images the heart only knoweth, a joy with which a have been selected and combined. We applaud stranger interinedilleth not. The machinery, the genius of the writer. We applaud our own by which ideas are to be conveyed from one sagacity and sensibility, and we are comforted. person to another, is as yet rude and defective.
Yet, though we think that, in the progress of Between mind and mind there is a great guli. nations towards refinement, the reasoning The imitative arts do not exist, or are in their powers are improved at the expense of the ima- lowest state. But the actions of men amply gination, we acknowledge, that to this rule prove that the faculty which gives birth to there are many apparent exceptions. We are those arts is morbidly active. It is not yet the not, however, quite satisfied that they are more inspiration of poets and sculptors; but it is the than apparent. Men reasoned better, for ex- amusement of the day, the terror of the night, ample, in the time of Elizabeth than in the the fertile source of wild superstitions. It time of Egbert; and they also wrote better turns the clouds into gigantic shapes, and the poetry. But we must distinguish between poetry winds into doleful voices. The belief which and a mental act, and poetry as a species of springs from it is more absolute and undoubicomposition. If we take it in the laiter sense, ing than any which can be derived from eviits excellence depends, not solely on the vigour dence. It resembles the faith which we reof the imagination, but partly also on the in- pose in our own sensations. Thus, the Arab, struments which the imagination employs. when covered with wounds, saw nothing but Within certain limits, therefore, poetry may be the dark eyes and the green kerchief of a beckimproving, while the poetical faculty is decay- oning Houri. The Northern warrior laughed ing: The vividness of the picture presented in the pangs of death, when he thought of the to the reader is not necessarily proportioned to mead of Valhalla. the vividness of the prototype which exists in The first works of the imagination are, as the mind of the writer. In the other arts we we have said, poor and rude, not from the want see this clearly. Should a man, gifted by na- of genius, but from the want of materials. ture with all the genius of Canova, attempt to Phidias could have done nothing with an old carve a statue without instruction as to the tree and a fish-bone, or Homer with the lanmanagement of his chisel, or attention to the guage of New Holland. anatomy of the human body, he would produce Yet the effect of these early performances, something compared with which the High-imperfect as they must necessarily be, is im. lander at the door of the snuff-shop would de mense. All deficiencies are to be supplied serve admiration. If an uninitiated Raphael by the susceptibility of those to whom they are were to attempt a painting, it would be a mere addressed. We all know what pleasure a daub; indeed, the connoisseurs say, that the wooden doll, which may be bought for sixearly works of Raphael are little better. Yet, pence, will afford to a litile girl. She will re. who can attribute this to want of imagination ? quire no other company. She will nurse it, Who can doubt that the youth of that great ar- dress it, and talk to it all day. No grown-up tist was passed amidst an ideal world of beauti- man takes half so much delight in one of the ful and majestic forms ? Or, who will attribute incomparable babies of Chantrey. In the same the difference which appears between his first manner, savages are more affected by the rude rude essays, and his magnificent Transfigura compositions of their bards than nations more tion, to a change in the constitution of his advanced in civilization by the greatest mas. mind? In poetry, as in painting and sculpture, terpieces of poetry. it is necessary that the imitator should be well In process of time, the instruments by which acquainted with that which he undertakes to the imagination works are brought to perfecimitate, and expert in the mechanical part of tion. Men have not more imagination than his art. Genius will not furnish him with a their rude ancestors. We strongly suspect, vocabulary: it will not teach him what word that they have much less. But they produce most exactly corresponds to his idea, and will better works of imagination. Thus, up to a most fully convey it to others : it will not make certain period, the diminution of the poetical him a great descriptive poet, till he has looked powers is far more than compensated by the with attention on the face of nature; or a great improvement of all the appliances and ineans dramatist, till he has felt and witnessed much of which those powers stand in need. Then of the influence of the passions. Information comes the short period of splendid and con. and experience are, therefore, necessary; not summate excellence. And then, from causes for the purpose of strengthening the imagina- against which it is vain to struggle, poetry betion, which is never so strong as in people in-gins to decline. The progress of language, capable of reasoning-savages, children, mad- which was at first favourable, becomes fatal to) men, and dreamers; but for the purpose of en-it, and, instead of compensating for the decay abling the artist to communicate his concep- of the imagination, accelerates that decay, and tions to others.
renders it more obvious. When the advenIn a barbarous age the imagination exercises turer in the Arabian tale anointed one of his a despotic power. So strong is the perception eyes with the contents of the magical box, ali of what is unreal, that it often overpowers all the riches of the earth, however widely dis the passions of the mind, and all the sensations persed, however sacredly concealed, became of the body. At first, indeed, the phantasm re- visible to him. But when he tried the experimains undivulged, a hidden treasure, a word- ment on both eyes, he was struck with blinilless poetry, an invisible painting, a silent mu- What the enchanted elixir was to the sic, a dream of which the pains and pleasures sight of the body, language is to the sight of exist to the dreamer alone, a bitterness which the imagination. At first it calls up a world
of glorious illusions, but when it becomes too wonderful models of former times are justly copious, it altogether destroys the visual power. appreciated. The frigid productions of a later
As the development of ihe mind proceeds, age are rated at no more than their proper symbols, instead of being employed to convey value. Pleasing and ingenious imitations of images, are substituted for them. Civilized the manner of the great masters appear. Poetmen think as they trade, not in kind, but by ry has a partial revival, a St. Martin's Summeans of a circulating medium. In these cir- mer, which, after a period of dreariness and cumstances the sciences improve rapidly, and decay, agreeably reminds us of the splendour criticism among the rest; but poetry, in the of its June. A second harvest is gathered in; highest sense of the word, disappears. Then though, growing on a spent soil, it has the comes the dotage of the fine arts, a second heart of the former. Thus, in the present age, childhood, as feeble as the former, and far Monti has successfully imitated the style of more hopeless. This is the age of critical Dante; and something of the Elizabethan inpoetry, of poetry by courtesy, of poetry to spiration has been caught by several eminent which the memory, the judgment, and the wit countrymen of our own. But never will Italy contribute far more than the imagination. We produce another Inferno, or England another readily allow that many works of this descrip- Hamlet. We look on the beauties of the motion are excellent; we will not contend with dern imitations with feelings similar to those those who think them more valuable than the with which we see flowers disposed in vases great poems of an carlier period. We only to ornament the drawing-rooms of a capital. maintain that they belong to a different species We doubtless regard them with pleasure, with of composition, and are produced by a differ- greater pleasure, perhaps, because, in the midst ent faculty.
of a place ungenial to them, they remind us It is some consolation to reflect that this of the distant spots on which they flourish in critical school of poetry improves as the sci- spontaneous exuberance. But we miss the ence of criticism improves; and that the science sap, the freshness, and the bloom. Or, if we of criticism, like every other science, is con- may borrow another illustration from Queen stantly tending towards perfection. As experi- Scheherezade, we would compare the writers ments are multiplied, principles are better un- of this school to the jewellers who were emderstood.
ployed to complete the unfinished window of In some countries, in our own, for example, the palace of Aladdin. Whatever skill or cost there has been an interval between the down- could do was done. Palace and bazaar were fall of the creative school and the rise of the ransacked for precious stones. Yet the artists, critical, a period during which imagination has with all their dexterity, with all their assiduity, been in its decrepitude, and taste in its infancy. and with all their vast means, were unable io Such a revolutionary interregnum as this will produce any thing comparable to the wonders be deformed by every species of extravagance. which a spirit of a higher order had wrought
The first victory of good taste is over the in a single night. bombast and conceits which deform such times The history of every literature with which as these. But criticism is still in a very im- we are acquainted confirms, we think, the perfect state. What is accidental is for a long principles which we have laid down. In time confounded with what is essential. Ge- Greece we see the imaginative school of poetneral theories are drawn from detached facts. ry gradually fading into the critical. ÆschyHow many hours the action of a play may be lus and Pindar were succeeded by Sophocles; allowed to occupy-how many similes an epic Sophocles by Euripides; Euripides by the poet may introduce into his first book-whe- Alexandrian versifiers. Of these last, Theother a piece which is acknowledged to have a critus alone has left compositions which debeginning and end may not be without a mid- serve to be read. The splendid and grotesque dle, and other questions as puerile as these, fairy-land of the Old Comedy, rich with such formerly occupied the attention of men of let- gorgeous hues, peopled with such fantastic iers in France, and even in this country. shapes, and vocal alternately with the sweetPoets, in such circumstances as these, exhibit est peals of music and the loudest bursts of all the narrowness and feebleness of the criti- elvish laughter, disappeared forever. The cism by which their manner has been fashion- masterpieces of the New Comedy are known ed. From outrageous absurdity they are pre- to us by Latin translations of extraordinary served indeed by their timidity. But they merit. From these translations, and from the perpetually sacrifice nature and reason to ar- expressions of the ancient critics, it is clear bitrary canons of taste. In their eagerness to that the original compositions were distin. avoid the mala prohibita of a foolish code, they guished by grace and sweetness, that they are perpetually rushing on the mala in se sparkled with wit and abounded with pleasing Their great predecessors, it is true, were as sentiments, but that the creative power was bad critics as themselves, or perhaps worse; gone. Julius Cæsar called Terence a hali but those predecessors, as we have attempted Menander—a sure proof that Menander was to show, were inspired by a faculty indepen- not a quarter Aristophanes. dent of criticism, and therefore wrote well The literature of the Romans was merely a while they judged ill.
continuation of the literature of the Greeks. In time men begin to take more rational and The pupils started from the point at which comprehensive views of literature. The ana- their masters had in the course of many geneJysis of poetry, which, as we have remarked, rations arrived. They thus alınost wholly nust at best be imperfect, approaches nearer missed the period of original invention. The and nearer to exactness. The merits of the only Latin poets whose writings exhibit much
vigour of imagination are Lucretius and Ca- cious, was utterly unconscious of their valuc, tullus. The Augustan age produced nothing and gave up treasures more valuable than the equal to their finer passages.
imperial crowns of other countries, to secure In France, that licensed jester, whose jin- some gaudy and far-fetched but worthless bau gling cap and motley coat concealed more ge- ble, a plated button, or a necklace of coloured nius than ever mustered in the saloon of Ninon glass. or of Madame Géoffrin, was succeeded by writ- We have attempied to show that, as knowers as decorous and as tiresome as gentlemen- ledge is extended, and as the reason developes ushers.
itself, the imitative arts decay. We should, The poetry of Italy and of Spain has under-therefore, expect that the corruption of poetry gone the same change. But nowhere has the would commence in the educated classes rif revolution been more complete and violent society. And this, in fact, is almost constantly than in England. The same person who, when the case. The few great works of imagination a boy, had clapped his thrilling hands at the which appear in a critical age are, almost first representation of the Tempest
, might, with withont exception, the works of uneducated out attaining to a marvellous longevity, have men. Thus, at a time when persons of quality lived to read the earlier works of Prior and Ad- translated French romances, and when the dison. The change, we believe, must, sooner Universities celebrated royal deaths in verses or later, have taken place. But its progress about Tritons and Fauns, a preaching tinker was accelerated and its character modified by produced the Pilgrim's Progress. And thus a the political occurrences of the times, and par- ploughman startied a generation, which had ticularly by two events, the closing of the thea- thought Hayley and Beattie great poets, with tres under the Commonwealth, and the resto- the adventures of Tam O'Shanter. Even in ration of the house of Stuart.
the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth the We have said that the critical and poetical fashionable poetry had degenerated. faculties are not only distinct, but almost in- tained few vestiges of the imagination of compatible. The state of our literature during earlier times. It had not yet been subjected the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First is to the rules of good taste. Affectation had a strong confirmation of this remark. The completely tainted madrigals and sonnets. greatest works of imagination that the world The grotesque conceits and the tuneless num. has ever seen were produced at that period. bers of Donne were, in the time of James, the The national taste, in the mean time, was to favourite models of composition at Whitehall the last degree detestable. Alliterations, puns, and at the Temple. But though the literature antitherical forms of expression lavishly em- of the Court was in its decay, the literature of ployed where no corresponding opposition the people was in its perfection. The Muses existed between the thoughts expressed, strain- had taken sanctuary in the theatres, the haunts ed allegories, pedantic allusions, every thing, of a class whose taste was not better than that in short, quaint and affected in matter and of the Right Honourables and singular good manner, made up what was then considered as Lords who admired metaphysical love-verses, fine writing. The eloquence of the bar, the but whose imagination retained all its freshpulpit, and the council-board was deformed by ness and vigour; whose censure and approbaconceits which would have disgraced the rhym- tion might be erroneously bestowed, but whose ing shepherds of an Italian academy. The tears and laughter were never in the wrong. king quibbled on the throne. We might, in- The infection which had tainted lyric and deed, console ourselves by reflecting that his didactic poetry had but slightly and partially majesty was a fool. But the chancellor quib- touched the drama. While the noble and the bled in concert_from the woolsack, and the learned were comparing eyes to burning, chancellor was Francis Bacor.. It is needless glasses, and tears to terrestrial globes, coyness to mention Sidney and the whole tribe of Eu- to an enthymeme, absence to a pair of comphuists. For Shakspeare himself, the greatest passes, and an unrequited passion to the for. poet that ever lived, falls into the same fault tieth remainderman in an entail, Juliet leaning whenever he means to be particularly fine. from the balcony, and Miranda smiling over While he abandons himself to the impulse of the chess-board, sent home many spectators, his imagination, his compositions are not only as kind and simple-hearted as the master and the sweetest and the most sublime, but also mistress of Fletcher's Ralpho, to cry themthe most faultless that the world has ever seen. selves to sleep. But as soon as his critical powers come into No species of fiction is so delightful to us as play, he sinks to the level of Cowley, or rather the old English drama. Even its inferior pro he does ill what Cowley did well. All that is ductions possess a charm not to be found in bad in his works is bad elaborately, and of any other kind of poetry. It is the most lucid malice aforethought. The only thing wanting mirror that ever was held up to nature. The to make them perfect was, that he shouid creations of the great dramatists of Athens never have troubled himself with thinking produce the effect of magnificent sculptures, whether they were good or not. Like the an- conceived by a mighty imagination, polished gols in Milton, he sinks “with compulsion and with the utmost delicacy, imbodying ideas ci laborious flight.” His natural tendency is up- ineffable majesty and beauty, but cold, pale, wards. That he may soar it is only necessary and rigid, with no bloom on the cheek, and no that he should not struggle to fall. He resem- speculation in the eye. In all the draperies bled the American cacique who, possessing in the figures, and the faces, in the lovers an: unmeasured abundance the metals which in the tyrants, the Bacchanals and the Furies polished societies are esteemed the most pre- there is the same riarble chillness and read