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all the great poets, and, in an especial manner, all the poets who chain down the attention of their readers, and maintain a growing interest through a long series of narrations, have been remarkable for the occasional familiarity, and even homeliness, of their incidents, characters, and sentiments. This is the distinguishing feature in Homer, Chaucer, Ariosto, Shakspeare, Dryden, Scott-and will be found to occur, we believe, in all poetry that has been long and extensively popular, or that is capable of pleasing very strongly, or stirring very deeply, the common sensibilities of our nature. We need scarcely make an exception for the lofty Lyric, which is so far from being generally attractive, that it is not even intelligible, except to a studious few-or for those solemn and devotional strains which derive their interest from a still higher principle; but in all narrative poetry—in all long pieces made up of descriptions and adventures, it seems hitherto to have been an indispensable condition of their success, that the persons and events should bear a considerable resemblance to those which we meet with in ordinary life; and, though more animated and important than to be of daily occurrence, should not be immeasurably exalted above the common standard of human fortune and character.
It should be almost enough to settle the question, that such is the fact-and that no narrative poetry has ever excited a great interest, where the persons were too much purified from the vulgar infirmities of our nature, or the incidents too thoroughly purged of all that is ordinary or familiar. But the slightest reflection upon the feelings with which we read such poetry, must satisfy us as to the reason of our disappointment. It may be told in two words. Writings of this kind revolt by their improbability; and fatigue, by offering no points upon which our sympathies can readily attach.Two things are necessary to give a fictitious narrative a deep and commanding interest; first, that we should believe that such things might have happened; and, secondly, that they might have happened to ourselves, or to such persons as ourselves. But, in reading the ambitious and overwrought poetry of which we have been speaking, we feel perpetually, that there could have been no such people, and no such occurrences, as we are there called upon to feel for; and that it is impossible to have much concern about beings whose principles of action are so remote from our own, and who are placed in situations to which we have never known any parallel. It is no doubt true, that the stories that interest us must represent passions of a higher pitch, and events of a more extraordinary nature, than occur in ordinary life; and that it is in consequence of rising thus sensibly above its level, that they become objects of interest and attention. But, in order that this very elevation may be felt, and produce its effect, the story must itself, in other places, give us the known and ordinary level,-and, by a thousand adaptations and traits of universal nature, make us feel that the characters which become every now and then the objects of our intense sympathy and admiration, in great emergencies, and under the influence of rare but conceivable excitements, are, after all, our fellow-creatures-made of the same flesh and blood with ourselves, and acting, and acted upon, by the common principles of our nature. Without this, indeed, the effect of their sufferings and exploits would be entirely lost upon us; as we should be without any scale by which to estimate the magnitude of the temptations they had to resist, or the energies they had exerted. To make us aware of the altitude of a mountain, it is absolutely necessary to show us the plain from which it ascends. If we are allowed to see nothing but the table land
at the top, the effect will be no greater than if we had remained on the humble level of the shore-except that it will be more lonely, bleak, and inhospitable. And thus it is that, by exaggerating the heroic qualities. of heroes, they become as uninteresting as if they had no such qualitiesthat by striking out those weaknesses and vulgar infirmities which identify them with ordinary mortals, they not only cease to interest ordinary mortals, but even to excite their admiration or surprise; and appear merely as strange inconceivable beings, in whom superhuman energy and refinement are no more to be wondered at, than the power of flying in an eagle, or of fasting in a snake.
The wise ancient who observed, that being a man himself, he could not but take an interest in every thing that related to man-might have confirmed his character for wisdom by adding, that, for the same reason, he could take no interest in any thing else. There is nothing, after all, that we ever truly care for, but the feelings of creatures like ourselves—and we are obliged to lend them to the flowers and the brooks of the valley, and the stars and airs of heaven, before we can take any delight in them. With sentient beings the case is more obviously the same. In whatever class we rank them, or with whatever fantastic attributes we may please to invest them, still we comprehend and concern ourselves about them, only in so far as they resemble ourselves. All the deities of the classic mythologyand all the devils and angels of later poets, are nothing but human creatures -or at least only interest us so long as they are so. Let any one try to imagine what kind of story he could make of the adventures of a set of beings who differed from our own species in any of its general attributes— who were incapable, for instance, of the debasing feelings of fear, pain, or anxiety-and he will find, that instead of becoming more imposing and attractive by getting rid of those infirmities, they become utterly insignificant, and indeed in a great degree inconceivable. Or, to come a little closer to the matter before us, and not to go beyond the bounds of common ex-perience suppose a tale, founded on refined notions of delicate love and punctilious integrity, to be told to a race of obscene, brutal, and plundering savages-or, even within the limits of the same country, if a poem, turning upon the jealousies of court intrigue, the pride of rank, and the cabals of sovereigns and statesmen, were put into the hands of village maidens or clownish labourers, is it not obvious that the remoteness of the manners, characters, and feelings from their own would first surprise, and then revolt them-and that the moral, intellectual, and adventitious superiority of the personages concerned, would, instead of enhancing the interest, entirely destroy it, and very speedily extinguish all sympathy with their passions, and all curiosity about their fate?—Now, what gentlemen and ladies are to a ferocious savage, or politicians and princesses to an ordinary rustic, the exaggerated persons of such poetry as we are now considering are to the ordinary readers of poetry. They do not believe in the possibility of their existence, or their adventures. They do not comprehend the principles of their conduct, and have no thorough sympathy with the feelings that are ascribed to them.
We have carried this speculation, we believe, a little too far-and, with reference to the volume before us, it would be more correct perhaps to say, that it had suggested these observations, than that they are strictly applicable to it. For though its faults are certainly of the kind we have been endeavouring to describe, it would be quite unjust to characterise it by
its faults, which are beyond all doubt less conspicuous than its beauties. There is not only a richness and brilliancy of diction and imagery spread over the whole work, that indicate the greatest activity and elegance of fancy in the author; but it is every where pervaded still more strikingly with a strain of tender and noble feeling, poured out with such warmth and abundance, as to steal insensibly on the heart of the reader, and gradually to overflow it with a tide of sympathetic emotion. There are passages, indeed, and these neither few nor brief, over which the very Genius of poetry seems to have breathed his richest enchantment-where the melody of the verse and the beauty of the images conspire so harmoniously with the force and tenderness of the emotion, that the whole is blended into one deep and bright stream of sweetness and feeling, along which the spirit of the reader is borne passively away, through long reaches of delight. Mr. Moore's poetry, indeed, where his happiest vein is opened, realises, more exactly than that of any other writer, the splendid account which is given by Comus of the song of
"His mother Circe, and the Sirens three,
Amid the flowery-kir tled Naiades,
Who, as they sung, would take the prison'd soul,
And though it is certainly to be regretted that he should so often have broken the measure with more frivolous strains, or filled up its intervals with a sort of brilliant falsetto, it should never be forgotten, that his excellences are at least as peculiar to himself as his faults, and, on the whole, perhaps, more characteristic of his genius.†
We have now said enough, to let our readers understand both what it is, and what we think of it. Its great fault certainly is its excessive finery -and its great charm the inexhaustible copiousness of its imagery-the sweetness and ease of its diction-and the beauty of the objects and sentiments with which it is concerned. Its finery, it should also be observed, is not the vulgar ostentation which so often disguises poverty or meanness— but the extravagance of excessive wealth. We have said this, however, we believe, before-and suspect we have little more to say.
All poets, who really love poetry, and live in a poetical age, are great imitators; and the character of their writings may often be as correctly ascertained by observing whom they imitate, and whom they abstain from imitating, as from any thing else. Mr. Moore, in the volume before us, reminds us oftener of Mr. Southey and Lord Byron than of any other of his contemporaries. The resemblance is sometimes to the Roderic of the first mentioned, but most frequently to his Kehama. This may be partly owing to the nature of the subject; but, in many passages, the coincidence seems to be more radical, and to indicate a considerable conformity, in taste, and habits of conception. Mr. Southey's tone, indeed, is more assuming, his manner more solemn, and his diction weaker. Mr. Moore is more lively -his figures and images come more thickly-and his language is at once more familiar and more strengthened with points and antitheses. In other respects, the descriptive passages in Kehama bear a remarkable affinity to many in the work before us-in the brightness of the colouring, and the
Here follows an interesting analysis of the poems, with abundant specimens. The critical observations on the passages quoted are well worth the reader's perusal. See from page 8 to the termination of the critique.
amplitude and beauty of the details. It is in his descriptions of love, and of female loveliness, that there is the strongest resemblance to Lord Byron, at least to the larger poems of that noble author. In the powerful and condensed expression of strong emotion, Mr. Moore seems to us rather to have imitated the tone of some of his lordship's smaller pieces-but imitated them as only an original genius could imitate-as Lord Byron himself may be said, in his later pieces, to have imitated those of an earlier date.— There is less to remind us of Scott than we can very well account for, when we consider the great range and variety of that most fascinating and powerful writer and we must say, that if Mr. Moore could bring the resemblance a little closer, and exchange a portion of his superfluous images and ecstasies for an equivalent share of Mr. Scott's gift of interesting and delighting us with pictures of familiar nature, and of that spirit and energy which never rises to extravagance, we think he would be a gainer by the exchange. To Mr. Crabbe there is no resemblance at all: and we only mention his name, to observe, that he and Mr. Moore seem the antipodes of our present poetical sphere, and to occupy the extreme points of refinement and homeliness that can be said to fall within the legitimate dominion of poetry. They could not meet in the middle, we are aware, without changing their nature, and losing their specific character; but each might approach a few degrees, we think, with great mutual advantage. The outposts of all empires are posts of peril-though we do not dispute that there is great honour in maintaining them with success.
It may seem very doubtful, whether the progress and the vicissitudes of the elegant arts can be referred to the operation of general laws, with the same plausibility as the exertions of the more robust faculties of the human mind, in the severer forms of science and of useful art. The action of fancy and taste seems to be affected by causes too various and minute to be enumerated with sufficient completeness for the purpose of philosophical theory. To explain them, may appear to be as hopeless an attempt, as to account for one summer being more warm and genial than another. The difficulty must be owned to be great. It renders complete explanations impossible; and it would be insurmountable, even in framing the most general outline of theory, if the various forms assumed by imagination, in the fine arts, did not depend on some of the most conspicuous as well as powerful agents in the moral world. They arise from revolutions of popular sentiments. They are connected with the opinions of the age, and with the manners of the refined class, as certainly, though not as much, as with the passions of the multitude. The comedy of a polished monarchy never could be of the same character with that of a bold and tumultuous democracy. Changes of religion and of government, civil or foreign wars, conquests which derive splendour from distance, or extent, or difficulty-long tranquillity-all these, and indeed every conceivable modification of the state of a community, show themselves in the tone of its poetry, and leave long and deep traces on every part of its literature. Geometry is the same, not only at
Poems: by Samuel Rogers: including Fragments of a Poem called the Voyage of Columbus. -Vol. xxii. p. 32. October, 1813.
London and Paris, but in the extremes of Athens and Samarcand. But the state of the general feeling in England, at this moment, requires a different poetry from that which delighted our ancestors in the time of Luther or Alfred. It ought to be needless to guard this language from misconception, by an observation, so obviously implied, as that there are some qualities which must be common to all delightful poems of every time and country. During the greater part of the eighteenth century, the connection of the character of English poetry, with the state of the country, was very easily traced. The period which extended from the English to the French Revolution, was the golden age of authentic history. Governments were secure, nations tranquil, improvements rapid, manners mild beyond the example of any former age. The English nation, which possessed the greatest of all human blessings, a wisely constructed popular government, necessarily enjoyed the largest share of every other benefit. The tranquillity of that fortunate period was not disturbed by any of those calamitous, or even extraordinary events, which excite the imagination and inflame the passions. No age was more exempt from the prevalence of any species of popular enthusiasm. Poetry, in this state of things, partook of that calm, argumentative, moral, and directly useful character into which it naturally subsides, when there are no events which call up the higher passions; when every talent is allured into the immediate service of a prosperous and improving society;-and when wit, taste, diffused literature, and fastidious criticism, combine to deter the young writer from the more arduous enterprises of poetical genius. In such an age every art becomes rational. Reason is the power which presides in a calm: but reason guides, rather than impels; and, though it must regulate every exertion of genius, it never can rouse it to vigorous action.
The school of Dryden and Pope, which prevailed till a very late period of the last century, is neither the most poetical nor the most national part of our literary annals. These great poets sometimes indeed ventured into the regions of pure poetry. But their general character is, that "not in fancy's maze they wandered long;" that they rather approached the elegant correctness of our Continental neighbours, than supported the daring flight which, in the former age, had borne English poetry to a sublimer elevation than that of any other modern people of the West. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, great, though quiet changes, began to manifest themselves in the republic of letters, in every European nation which retained any portion of mental activity. About that time, the exclusive authority of our great rhyming poets began to be weakened; new tastes and fashions began to show themselves in the poetical world. A school of poetry must have prevailed long enough to be probably on the verge of downfall, before its practice be embodied in a correspondent system of criticism. Johnson was the critic of our second poetical school. As far as his prejudices of a political or religious kind did not disqualify him for all criticism, he was admirably fitted by nature to be the critic of this species of poetry. Without more imagination, sensibility, or delicacy than it required, not always with perhaps quite enough for its higher parts, he possessed sagacity, shrewdness, experience, knowledge of mankind, a taste for rational and orderly compositions, and a disposition to accept, instead of poetry, that lofty and vigorous declamation in harmonious verse, of which he himself was capable, and to which his great masters sometimes descended. His spontaneous admiration scarcely soared