Imágenes de páginas

ralist is to a real porcupine, the remarks of criticism are to the images of poetry. What it so imperfectly decomposes, it cannot perfectly reconstruct. It is evidently as impossiter exquisitely ridiculous without impairing its ble to produce an Othello or a Macbeth by reversing an analytical process so defective as it would be for an anatomist to form a living man out of the fragments of his dissecting room. In both cases, the vital principle eludes the finest instruments, and vanishes in the very instant in which its seat is touched. Hence those who, trusting to their critical skill, attempt to write poems, give us not images of things, but catalogues of qualities. Their characters are allegories; not good men and bad men, but cardinal virtues and deadly sins. We seem to have fallen among the acquaintances of our old friend Christian: sometimes we meet Mistrust and Timorous: someimes Mr. Hate-good and Mr. Love-lust; and then again Prudence, Piety, and Charity.

greatest of human calamities, without once vio lating the reverence due to it; at that discriminating delicacy of touch which makes a characworth, its grace, or its dignity. In Don Quixote are several dissertations on the principles of poetic and dramatic writing. No passages in the whole work exhibit stronger marks of labour and attention; and no passages in any work with which we are acquainted are more worthless and puerile. In our time they would scarcely obtain admittance into the literary department of the Morning Post. Every reader of the Divine Comedy must be struck by the veneration which Dante expresses for writers far inferior to himself. He will not lift up his eyes from the ground in the presence of Brunetto, all whose works are not worth the worst of his own hundred cantos. He does not venture to walk in the same line with the bombastic Statius. His admiration of Virgil is absolute idolatry. If indeed it had been excited by the elegant, splendid and harmonious diction of the Roman poet, it would not have been altogether unreasonable; but it is rather as an authority on all points of philosophy, than as a work of imagination, that he values the Æneid. The most trivial passages he regards as oracles of the highest authority, and of the most recondite meaning. He describes his conductor as the sea of all wisdom, the sun which heals every disordered sight. As he judged of Virgil, the Italians of the fourteenth century judged of him; they were proud of him; they praised him; they struck medals bearing his head; they quarrelled for the honour of possessing his remains; they maintained professors to expound his writings. But what they admired was not that mighty imagination which called a new world into existence, and made all its sights and sounds familiar to the

That critical discernment is not sufficient to make men poets is generally allowed. Why it should keep them from becoming poets, is not perhaps equally evident. But the fact is, that poetry requires not an examining, but a believing frame of mind. Those feel it most, and write it best, who forget that it is a work of art; to whom its imitations, like the realities from which they are taken, are subjects not for connoisseurship, but for tears and laughter, resentment and affection, who are too much under the influence of the illusion to admire the genius which has produced it; who are too much frightened for Ulysses in the cave of Polyphemus, to care whether the pun about Outis be good or bad; who forget that such a person as Shakspeare ever existed, while they weep and curse with Lear. It is by giving faith to the creations of the imagination that a man becomes a poet. It is by treating 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 elements, that he becomes a critic. In the moment in which the skill of the artist is perceived, the spell of the art is broken.

those awful and lovely creations on which later critics delight to dwell-Farinata lifting his haughty and tranquil brow from his couch of everlasting fire-the lion-like repose of SorThese considerations account for the absurd-dello-or the light which shone from the celesities 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 causes which have not in the slightest degree tended to produce them. They feel pleasure in reading a book. They never consider that this pleasure may be the effect of ideas, which some unmeaning expression, striking on the first link or a chain of associations, may have called up in their own minds-that they have themselves furnished to the author the beauties which they admire.

he pre-eminently excelled. Like the fool in the story, who ruined his dwelling by digging for gold, which, as he had dreamed, was concealed under its foundations, they laid waste one of the noblest works of human genius, by seeking in it for buried treasures of wisdom, which existed only in their own wild reveries. The finest passages were little valued till they had been debased into some monstrous allegory. Louder applause was given to the lecture on fate and free-will, or to the ridiculous astronomical theories, than to those tremendous lines which disclose the secrets of the

guilty love, so passionate and so full of tears.

Cervantes is the delight of all classes of readers. Every schoolboy thumbs to pieces the most wretched translations of his romance, 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, as well as the faces of his own playfellows. The most experienced and fastidious judges are amazed at the perfection of that art which extracts inextinguishable laughter from the

We do not mean to say that the contempo raries of Dante read, with less emotion than their descendants, of Ugolino groping among the wasted corpses of his children, or of Fran D

cesca starting at the tremulous kiss, and drop- "Little more worth remembering occurred ping the fatal volume. Far from it. We be- during the play, at the end of which Jones asked lieve 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. Partridge,' says Mrs. Milbarbarism to civilization produces a change Jer, 'you are not of the same opinion with the similar to that which takes place during the town; for they are all agreed that Hamlet is progress of an individual from infancy to ma- acted 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, he 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 did. And then, writer at all. He probably thought it not half to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, beso fine as some rant of Macpherson about dark- tween him and his mother, where you told me browed Foldath, and white-bosomed Strina- 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, touches, 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 pretty 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, mouthThe 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 finely, instead of ture. Our judgment ripens, our imagination decays. We cannot at once enjoy the flowers of the spring of life and the fruits of its autumn, the pleasures of close investigation and those of agreeable error. We cannot sit at once in the front of the stage and behind the scenes. We cannot be under the illusion of the spectacle, while we are watching the movements of the ropes and pulleys which dispose it.

The chapter in which Fielding describes the behaviour of Partridge at the theatre, affords so complete an illustration of our proposition, that we cannot refrain from quoting some parts of it. "Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick which he had denied to Jones, and fell into so violent a trembling that his knees knocked against each other. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior upon the stage?-O, la, sir,' said ne, I perceive now it is what you told me. I am not afraid of any thing, for I know it is but a play; and if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance and in so much company; and yet if I was frightened, I am not the only person.'-'Why, who,' cries Jones, 'dost thou take to be such a coward here besides thyself? Nay, you may call me a coward if you will; but if that little man there upon the stage is not frightened, I never saw any man frightened in my life.'... He sat with his eyes fixed partly on the Ghost and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet, succeeded likewise in him.

calling down the applauses of the audience, is hissed and pelted without mercy. It would be the same in England, if we, for one moment, thought that Shylock or Iago was standing before us. While the dramatic art was in its infancy at Athens, it produced similar effects on the ardent and imaginative spectators. It is said that they blamed Eschylus for frightening them into fits with his Furies. Herodotus tells us, that when Phrynichus produced his tragedy on the fall of Miletus, they fined him in a penalty of a thousand drachmas, for torturing their feelings by so pathetic an exhibition. They did not regard him as a great artist, but merely as a man who had given them pain. When they woke from the distressing illusion, they treated the author of it as they would have treated a messenger who should have brought them fatal and alarming tidings, which turned out to be false. In the same manner, a child screams with terror at the sight of a person in an ugly mask. He has perhaps seen the mask put on. But his imagination is too strong for his reason, and he entreats that it may be taken off.

We should act in the same manner, if the grief and horror produced in us by works of the imagination amounted to real orture. But in us these emotions are comparatively languid. They rarely affect our appetite or our sleep. They leave us sufficiently at ease to trace them to their causes, and to estimate the powers which produce them. Our attention is speedily diverted from the images which cal

in the pangs of death, when he thought of the mead of Valhalla.

The first works of the imagination are, as we have said, poor and rude, not from the want of genius, but from the want of materials. Phidias could have done nothing with an old tree and a fish-bone, or Homer with the language of New Holland.

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 intermeddleth 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 gulf. 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 amp, 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 undoubt composition. If we take it in the latter 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 to the reader is not necessarily proportioned to the vividness of the prototype which exists in the mind of the writer. In the other arts we see this clearly. Should a man, gifted by nature with all the genius of Canova, attempt to carve a statue without instruction as to the management of his chisel, or attention to the 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 imlander at the door of the snuff-shop would deserve admiration. If an uninitiated Raphael were to attempt a painting, it would be a mere daub; indeed, the connoisseurs say, that the early works of Raphael are little better. Yet, who can attribute this to want of imagination? Who can doubt that the youth of that great artist was passed amidst an ideal world of beautiful and majestic forms? Or, who will attribute the difference which appears between his first rude essays, and his magnificent Transfiguration, to a change in the constitution of his mind? In poetry, as in painting and sculpture, it is necessary that the imitator should be well acquainted with that which he undertakes to imitate, and expert in the mechanical part of his art. Genius will not furnish him with a vocabulary: it will not teach him what word most exactly corresponds to his idea, and will most fully convey it to others: it will not make him a great descriptive poet, till he has looked with attention on the face of nature; or a great dramatist, till he has felt and witnessed much of the influence of the passions. Information and experience are, therefore, necessary; not for the purpose of strengthening the imaginaton, which is never so strong as in people incapable of reasoning-savages, children, madmen, and dreamers; but for the purpose of enabling the artist to communicate his conceptions to others.

In a barbarous age the imagination exercises a despotic power. So strong is the perception of what is unreal, that it often overpowers all the passions of the mind, and all the sensations of the body. At first, indeed, the phantasm remains undivulged, a hidden treasure, a wordless poetry, an invisible painting, a silent music, a dream of which the pains and pleasures xist to the dreamer alone, a bitterness which

mense. All deficiencies are to be supplied by the susceptibility of those to whom they are addressed. We all know what pleasure a wooden doll, which may be bought for sixpence, will afford to a little girl. She will require no other company. She will nurse it, dress it, and talk to it all day. No grown-up man takes half so much delight in one of the incomparable babies of Chantrey. In the same manner, savages are more affected by the rude compositions of their bards than nations more advanced in civilization by the greatest masterpieces of poetry.

In process of time, the instruments by which the imagination works are brought to perfection. Men have not more imagination than their rude ancestors. We strongly suspect that they have much less. But they produce better works of imagination. Thus, up to a certain period, the diminution of the poetical powers is far more than compensated by the improvement of all the appliances and means of which those powers stand in need. Then comes the short period of splendid and consummate excellence. And then, from causes against which it is vain to struggle, poetry begins to decline. The progress of language, which was at first favourable, becomes fatal to it, and, instead of compensating for the decay of the imagination, accelerates that decay, and renders it more obvious. When the adventurer in the Arabian tale anointed one of his eyes with the contents of the magical box, alt the riches of the earth, however widely dis persed, however sacredly concealed, became visible to him. But when he tried the experiment on both eyes, he was struck with blindness. What the enchanted elixir was to the sight of the body, language is to the sight of 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 the 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 not 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 earlier 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 of the distant spots on which they flourish in spontaneous exuberance. But we miss the sap, the freshness, and the bloom. Or, if we may borrow another illustration from Queen Scheherezade, we would compare the writers of this school to the jewellers who were employed to complete the unfinished window of the palace of Aladdin. Whatever skill or cost could do was done. Palace and bazaar were ransacked for precious stones. Yet the artists, with all their dexterity, with all their assiduity, and with all their vast means, were unable to produce any thing comparable to the wonders which a spirit of a higher order had wrought in a single night.

It is some consolation to reflect that this critical school of poetry improves as the science of criticism improves; and that the science of criticism, like every other science, is constantly tending towards perfection. As experiments are multiplied, principles are better understood.


In some countries, in our own, for example, there has been an interval between the downfall of the creative school and the rise of the critical, a period during which imagination has been in its decrepitude, and taste in its infancy. Such a revolutionary interregnum as this will be deformed by every species of extravagance. The first victory of good taste is over the 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. 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. EschyHow 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 letters in France, and even in this country. Poets, in such circumstances as these, exhibit all the narrowness and feebleness of the criticism by which their manner has been fashioned. From outrageous absurdity they are preserved indeed by their timidity. But they perpetually sacrifice nature and reason to arbitrary canons of taste. In their eagerness to avoid the mala prohibita of a foolish code, they are perpetually rushing on the mala in se. Their great predecessors, it is true, were as bad critics as themselves, or perhaps worse; but those predecessors, as we have attempted to show, were inspired by a faculty independent of criticism, and therefore wrote well while they judged ill.

In time men begin to take more rational and comprehensive views of literature. The analysis of poetry, which, as we have remarked, inust at best be imperfect, approaches nearer and nearer to exactness. The merits of the

gorgeous hues, peopled with such fantastic shapes, and vocal alternately with the sweetest peals of music and the loudest bursts of elvish laughter, disappeared forever. The masterpieces of the New Comedy are known to us by Latin translations of extraordinary merit. From these translations, and from the expressions of the ancient critics, it is clear that the original compositions were distinguished by grace and sweetness, that they sparkled with wit and abounded with pleasing sentiments, but that the creative power was gone. Julius Cæsar called Terence a half Menander-a sure proof that Menander was not a quarter Aristophanes.

The literature of the Romans was merely a continuation of the literature of the Greeks. The pupils started from the point at which their masters had in the course of many generations arrived. They thus almost wholly missed the period of original invention. The only Latin poets whose writings exhibit much

vigour of imagination are Lucretius and Catallus. The Augustan age produced nothing equa to their finer passages.

cious, was utterly unconscious of their value, and gave up treasures more valuable than the imperial crowns of other countries, to secure some gaudy and far-fetched but worthless bau ble, a plated button, or a necklace of coloured glass.

In France, that licensed jester, whose jingling cap and motley coat concealed more genius than ever mustered in the saloon of Ninon or of Madame Géoffrin, was succeeded by writers as decorous and as tiresome as gentlemen-ledge is extended, and as the reason developes ushers.

The poetry of Italy and of Spain has undergone the same change. But nowhere has the revolution been more complete and violent than in England. The same person who, when a boy, had clapped his thrilling hands at the first representation of the Tempest, might, without attaining to a marvellous longevity, have lived to read the earlier works of Prior and Addison. The change, we believe, must, sooner or later, have taken place. But its progress was accelerated and its character modified by the political occurrences of the times, and particularly by two events, the closing of the theatres under the Commonwealth, and the restoration of the house of Stuart.

We have said that the critical and poetical faculties are not only distinct, but almost incompatible. The state of our literature during the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First is a strong confirmation of this remark. The greatest works of imagination that the world has ever seen were produced at that period. The national taste, in the mean time, was to the last degree detestable. Alliterations, puns, antithetical forms of expression lavishly employed where no corresponding opposition existed between the thoughts expressed, strained allegories, pedantic allusions, every thing, short, quaint and affected in matter and manner, made up what was then considered as fine writing. The eloquence of the bar, the pulpit, and the council-board was deformed by conceits which would have disgraced the rhyming shepherds of an Italian academy. The king quibbled on the throne. We might, indeed, console ourselves by reflecting that his majesty was a fool. But the chancellor quibbled in concert from the woolsack, and the chancellor was Francis Bacon. It is needless to mention Sidney and the whole tribe of Euphuists. For Shakspeare himself, the greatest poet that ever lived, falls into the same fault whenever he means to be particularly fine. While he abandons himself to the impulse of his imagination, his compositions are not only the sweetest and the most sublime, but also the most faultless that the world has ever seen. But as soon as his critical powers come into play, he sinks to the level of Cowley, or rather he does ill what Cowley did well. All that is bad in his works is bad elaborately, and of malice aforethought. The only thing wanting to make them perfect was, that he shouid never have troubled himself with thinking whether they were good or not. Like the angels in Milton, he sinks "with compulsion and laborious flight." His natural tendency is upwards. That he may soar it is only necessary that he should not struggle to fall. He resembled the American cacique who, possessing in unmeasured abundance the metals which in polished societies are esteemed the most preVOL I-6

We have attempted to show that, as know

It re

itself, the imitative arts decay. We should, therefore, expect that the corruption of poetry would commence in the educated classes of society. And this, in fact, is almost constantly the case. The few great works of imagination which appear in a critical age are, almost without exception, the works of uneducated men. Thus, at a time when persons of quality translated French romances, and when the Universities celebrated royal deaths in verses about Tritons and Fauns, a preaching tinker produced the Pilgrim's Progress. And thus a ploughman startled a generation, which had thought Hayley and Beattie great poets, with the adventures of Tam O'Shanter. Even in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth the fashionable poetry had degenerated. tained few vestiges of the imagination of earlier times. It had not yet been subjected to the rules of good taste. Affectation had completely tainted madrigals and sonnets. The grotesque conceits and the tuneless num bers of Donne were, in the time of James, the favourite models of composition at Whitehall and at the Temple. But though the literature of the Court was in its decay, the literature of the people was in its perfection. The Muses had taken sanctuary in the theatres, the haunts of a class whose taste was not better than that of the Right Honourables and singular good Lords who admired metaphysical love-verses, but whose imagination retained all its freshness and vigour; whose censure and approbation might be erroneously bestowed, but whose tears and laughter were never in the wrong. The infection which had tainted lyric and didactic poetry had but slightly and partially touched the drama. While the noble and the learned were comparing eyes to burning. glasses, and tears to terrestrial globes, coyness to an enthymeme, absence to a pair of compasses, and an unrequited passion to the for tieth remainderman in an entail, Juliet leaning from the balcony, and Miranda smiling over the chess-board, sent home many spectators, as kind and simple-hearted as the master an mistress of Fletcher's Ralpho, to cry themselves to sleep.


No species of fiction is so delightful to us as the old English drama. Even its inferior pro ductions possess a charm not to be found in any other kind of poetry. It is the most lacid mirror that ever was held up to nature. creations of the great dramatists of Athens produce the effect of magnificent sculptures, conceived by a mighty imagination, polished with the utmost delicacy, imbodying ideas of ineffable majesty and beauty, but cold, pale, and rigid, with no bloom on the cheek, and no speculation in the eye. In all the draperies. the figures, and the faces, in the lovers an the tyrants, the Bacchanals and the Furies there is the same marble chillness and dead

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