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“ The village life, and ev'ry care that reigas
O'er youthful peasants and declining swains ;
On Mincio's banks, in Cæsar's bounteous reign,
Then shall I dare these real ills to hide
By such examples taughi, I paint the cou
From these extracts, as well as from the constant tenor of his writings, it is clear, that Mr. Crabbe condemns the common representations of rural life and manners as fictitious ; that he is determined in his own sketches of them to confine himself, with more than ordinary vigour, to truth and nature;—to draw only “the real picture of the poor,” which, be it remembered, must necessarily, according lo his opinion, be a picture of sorrow and depravily. Now all this tends greatly to circumscribe, if not completely to destroy, the operation of illusion in poelry; and proceeds on what we conceive to be an entire misconception of the principles on which the pleasure of poetic reading depends. Notwithstanding the saving clause in favour of the privileges of fancy, which is inserted in one of the preceding extracts, the doctrines of Mr. Crabbe appear to us essentially hostile to the highest exercise of the imagination, and we cannot therefore help regarding them with considerable doubt and jealousy.
To talk of binding down poetry to dry representations of the world as it is, seems idle; because it is precisely in order to escape from the world as it is, that we fly to poetry. We turn to it, not that we may see and feel what we see and feel in our daily experience, but that we may be refreshed by other emotions and fairer prospects — that ve may take shelter from the realities of life in the paradise of fancy. To spread out a theatre on which this separate and intellectual kind of existence might be enjoyed, has in all ages been the great business of the speculative powers of the species. For this end new worlds bave been framed, or the old embellished; imaginary joys and sorrows have been excited; the elements have been peopled with ideal beings. To this moral necessity, the divinities of ancient mythology owed their popularity, if not their birth; and when that visionary creation was dissolved, the same powerful instinct supplied the void with the fays and genii and enchantments of modern romance.
Poetry then, if it would answer the end of its being, must flatter the imagination. It must win the mind to the exercise of its contemplative faculties by striking out pictures on which it may dwell with complacency and delight. It does not follow that these pictures should be exclusively of a gay and smiling nature. The mind is notoriously so constituted as to enjoy, within certain limits, the fictitious representations of sad or terrible things.
But why, it is said , does poetry realise that which has no existence in nature? It is, at least, some answer to the question to observe, that in this respect poetry only does for us more perfectly what, without its assistance, we every day do for ourselves. It is to illusions, whether excited by the art of the poet, or by the secret magic of association, Ibat life owes one of its first charms; and in both cases they give rise to feelings the same in their nature and in their practical effect. The pleasures of memory, for example, are great in exact proportion to the ardour with which the mind embraces this sort of self-deception. When we remember a past event in a very lively manner, what is it
but to realise that which has no existence ? and this, not only according to the popular mode of stating the fact, but is strict metaphysical truth. Such, too, is, in a striking degree, the case, when a portrait or some other memorial vividly affects us with the imagined presence of a deceased friend ; or when we are presented with the prospect of scenes resembling those to wbich we are attached by interesting recollections, especially if they meet us in a foreign climate. It is the happy observation of tliis familiar principle which constitutes the beauty of that fine passage in Virgil, where Æneas describes himself as saluting, in a remote country, the gates and towers of a second Troy, and as restored by a view of the copy to the presence of the original :
“ Procedo, et parvam Trojam, simulataque magnis
Pergaina, et arentem Xanthi cognomine rivom
Agnosco, Scææque amplector limina portæ.” Some of the emigrants from the north of Scotland to America have, it is said, chosen for their residence situations similar to those which they left; and have even given to the principal features of their new country the names by which the corresponding objects of the old were distinguished. This is only one instance of that desire to encourage illusions which so universally prevails, and which continually leads us to surround ourselves, is the expression may be allowed, with hints and suggestions of the distant or the past.
If, in common life, such artifices may innocently be employed lo steal the mind from itself, it is not easy to perceive why they become objectionable in works of taste ; and we must, therefore, be allowed still to number them among the legitimate stratagems of the poetic art.
In tracing more particularly the modes by which poetry accomplishes its object of drawing us away from the fatigues of reality, we shall find that, various as they are, they chiefly resolve themselves into two. That object may be effected by a diversion either lo subjects that rouse and agitate the mind, as in the fictions of epic and chivalrous romance; or ló such as soothe it, as in the representations of rural manners and scenery.
Of these two methods, the latter, or that of the pastoral kind, has always, we are inclined to think, been somewhat the more popular. To the mind harassed and overburdened with care, there is something more comforting in the quietness of these subjects, than in the lumult and pomp of more heroic distractions. They furnish, too, a more profound and sensible contrast to the bustling agitations of life. There are few of us, besides, to whom the idea of the country is not recommended by many tender and saered associations ;-by the recollection of early happiness and the pleasures of childhood, by the memory of our first hopes, and of companions who are now gone. Who has not sometimes figuratively adopted the language of the shepherd in Tasso ?
“ Ma poi cl'insieme con l' eta fiorita
Manco la speme e la baldanza audace,
E sospirai la mia perduta pace.” It may not be irrelevant to add, that the poetry which gratifies these breathings after the repose of humble lise may, in every case, be called pastoral: even if not in the vulgar acceptation of that name, yet according to its true and, indeed, its original intent. To. affirm, that it is not of the essence of pastoral poetry to treat of sheep and shepherds, may seem a paradox ; but the fact is, that these topics cannot be made essential to it, except by a sacrifice of its real to what we may term its verbal character. That which is ils distinctive feature, and the efficient, though not perhaps the ostensible, cause of its popularity, is, that it diverts the mind from ordinary life by soothing and gentle means. It is one peculiar mode of answering the common end of all poetry. It takes us out of the cares of the world ; and it does so by transporting us to regions of innocent and quiet happiness. We are not snatched from the scene of combat by a whirlwind, but wafted away from it in the folds of some “ fair evening cloud." A poem, therefore, may tell of nothing but flocks and swains ; of loves carved on trees, and crooks wreathed with lowers ; and yet if, while it gives us real pictures, it fail to keep alive that feeling of vernal refreshment and delight which such pictures are formed to inspire, it cannot be truly pasloral. To this main principle, of the lone of mind which such a composition ought to cherish, the most celebrated authors in this department have not sufficiently adverted. It sometimes happens that, in their best effusions, a sudden return to incongruous or unwelcome images breaks at once the strain of pleasing sensations which has been exciled. The camps and marches introduced into the tenth eclogue of Virgil are out of character. The satirical invectives which Spenser in some of his eclogues lavishes on the priesthood, under a quaint reference to the metaphorical appellation of pastors, grievously offend tasle ; and after the example of Spenser, Milton, in “Lycidas,” has so little respected the feelings of his readers, as to disturb the illusive charm of that truly pastoral poem, by bringing them back to the most ignoble pursuits of real life :
“ How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies' sake
What recks it then,” &c. It is the disregard of this unity of pastoral effect that forms the chief blemish of Florian's Estelle. Though the first appearance of Gaston de Foix is very striking, and there is much talent and animation in the warlike scenes, yet we believe that every reader, on arriving at the military part of that exquisite romance, feels the jarring of a discordant string.
While this species of writing remains true to its real character, it may surely be allowed the common privilege of resorting, for effect, to the deceptions of fancy. In one word, we are unable to discover why, in the first place, the illusions of poetry in general are less innocent than those of which we have given examples, as existing in the real world, without the intervention of poetic agency ; or why, in the second place, the illusions of pastoral composition are less innocent than those of heroic.
The visions of pastoral, like those of other poetry, can be said to convey false or incorrect impressions, only when they are regarded as exact likenesses of existing life and manners. So long as they are universally recognised to be visionary, they may be forgiven. If it be contended, that, in spite of the conviction of their falsehood, they yet insensibly affect the mind, and tend to unhinge us for the performance of our more homely and unromantic duties, by throwing an air of flatness over the incidents of common life :-this, indeed, is a serious charge, and demands some attention. It is analogous to the popular objection urged against all works of fiction, and especially against the higher kind of romance.
The mischievous influence, however, imputed to such writings, though it cannot entirely be denied to exist, is yet greatly over-rated. In this, as in many other cases, nature, even without the aid of a philosophical education, successfully struggles to accommodate herself lo circumstances. The mind is soon taught, that swelling ideas and emotions of high-wrought delicacy are unequal to the wear and tear of this work-day sphere. To reconcile the indulgence of its pobler sensations with the performance of practical duty, it insensibly learns to establish a distinction between the world of imagination and the world of sense; assigning to each its peculiar fourniture of feelings and associations. To the one or the other of these departments, whatever may be presented to it of virtue or of wisdom, is, without a conscious effort, referred.
We do not say that this division is, in every instance, systematically made ; but in every instance a tendency towards it may be discovered. It is obvious to perceive on what different grounds the same, or nearly the same, actions are judged, when they occur in ordinary life, and when they are found enshrined in the works of imagination. There are many virtues which are admired only in the records of fiction, and some which are admired only because they are fictitious.
The danger, to which we have adverted, seems then to be sufficiently removed by nature itself; but it must be confessed, that the removal of it opens to us the view of another, into which a genius, ardent but undisciplined, is not unlikely to fall. It is, that the line of distinction of which we have spoken, though drawn, will not be drawn in the right place. The masters of romance contrive to identify the good with the beautiful; and wbat they have thus identified, a mind trained in their school cannot easily be brought to separate. The captivating associations with which it has been taught to surround virtue, il acquires the habit of regarding not as her ornaments, but as her attribules;- not as the fires which are kindled about her shrine, but as glimpses and emanations of her own essential beauty. Whatever of adventitious grace or delicacy may be effused around her appears not so much to be lighted up by her splendour as to be melted into the mass of her substantial excellence,-as the clouds that gather round the setting sun seem to form a part of the brightness by which they are illuminaled. When such a mind enters on the scenes of the world, it is insensibly led, as we have already remarked, to distinguish its ideas and feelings into two classes—the practical and the romantic; referring to the latter those that may be too finely touched for the former. The glowing associations with which hitherto it has invariably united virtue it accordingly assigns to the departinent of romance ; and the danger is, lest, from the difficulty of making a distinction to which it has been unaccustomed, it may proceed to pass the same sentence on virtue itself. The higher kind of virtue, at least, it now believes to be visionary,—enchanting as an object of contemplation, but useless as a guide of conduct. The consequence of this delusion is, that although, from various motives, some consideration may yet be paid to those sober and pedestrian qualities, on which the contexture of society, in the coarsest view of the subject, depends, yet every thing that oversteps this naked routine of duty,—the greatness that is above vulgar heroism-lhe goodness that aspires to saintly perfection; these are dismissed to the shady spaces of an ideal world. It is, indeed, probable that a strong mind will at length redeem itself from the error into which it may have been thus betrayed ; yet the effects of so deep a wound may long survive its cure.
But the question recurs, -How are these dangers to be obviated? Are works of fiction, including, in that description, poetry, ancient and modern, to be banished? If this principle be adopted, we must proceed a step farther, and banish also all the prose writers of antiquity. The pompous and enchanting eloquence of the ancient philosophers, orators, and historians, has done more than the faërie of all the novel writers, from the creation till the present moment, lo array virtue with that romantic brightness which exercises so powerful a sorcery over the youthful imagination. We might truly characterise those authors as “ doctissimos homines, quibus, eliam cùm facere non possent, loqui lamen et scribere honestè et magnificè licebat.” Nothing has been produced, in modern ages, at all comparable, in this point of view, to the common places of Plato, Xenophon, and Plutarch, among the Greeks; and among the Romans, of Cicero and Livy. We speak not here of the substance of their ethic, which was very imperfect, but merely of the atmosphere of fine writing with which it was invested.
But admitting (and it is surely an extravagant admission) that we have completely succeeded in the attempt to seclude the mind from these inflammatory compositions, what is the consequence? The power of fancy is neither destroyed nor reduced to inaclion. If it be repressed in one direction, it will break out in another; and will avenge itself on the bigotry that would have extirpated ils energies, by devoting them to corruplion and sensuality. This then is all that we have gained. We have extinguished the lights of heaven ; but the darkness which we have left is not solitude. The slumbers from which we have chased the better genii will be haunted by the spectres of vice and folly.
It is not then by a vain effort to quench the imagination that the dangers of which we have been speaking are to be encountered. The only method by which a wise man would endeavour to meet them is that of a skilful education, of which it is the object to train up all the intellectual powers in equal proportions and a mutual correspondence; to instil into the mind just and rational expectations of human life; and, above all, lo encompass virtue with associations, if we may use the expression, more than mortal,associations, whose steady lustre may survive the waving and melcorous gleams of sentimental illusion.
The preceding observations relate generally to the principle of confining poetry to the realities of life; but they are peculiarly relevant, when that principle is applied to the scalities of low life, because these are, of all others, the most disgusting. If therefore
the poel choose to illustrate the department of low life, it is peculiarly incumbent on him to select such of its features as may at least be inoffensive. Should it be replied, that there is no room for such selection; then it follows, that he must altogether refrain from treating the subject, as utterly unworthy of his art. The truth however is, that there is room for selection. No department of life, however darkened by vice or sorrow, is without some brighter points on which the imagination may rest with complacency; and this is especially true where rural scenes make part of the picture. We are not so absurd as to deny, lhat lhe country furnishes abundant examples of misery and depravily ; but we deny that it furnishes none of a different kind. In common lise every man instinctively acquires the habit of diverting his attention from unpleasing objects, and fixing it on those that are more agreeable; and all we ask is, that this practical rule should be adopted in poetry. The face of nature under its daily and periodical varieties, the honest gaiety of rustic mirth, the flow of health and spirits which is inspired by the country, the delights which it brings to every sense, such are the pleasing topics which strike the most superficial observer. But a closer inspection will open to us more sacred gratifications. Wherever the relations of civilised society exist, particularly where a high standard of morals, however imperfectly acted upon, is yet publicly recognised, a groundwork is laid for the exercise of all the charities, social and domestic. In the midst of profligacy and corruption some trace of those charities still lingers ; there is some spot which shelters domestic happiness; some undiscovered clest, in which the seeds of the best affections have been cherished and are bearing fruit in silence. Poverty, however blighting in general, bas graces which are peculiarly ils own. The highest order of virtues can be developed only in a state of habitual suffering.
These are the realities which it is the duty of the poet to select for exhibilion; and these, as they have nothing of illusion in themselves it is not necessary to recommend by the magic of a richly-painted diction. Even presented to us in language the most precise and unadorned, they cannot fail to please; and please perhaps then most surely, when told in words of an almost abstract simplicity; words so limpid and colourless, that they seem only to discover to us the ideas, not to convey them, still less lo lend them any additional sweetness or strength. Every reader will recollect some passages in our best authors which answer to this character. Yet we cannot resist the temptation of exemplifying our position by an instance from Mr. Crabbe himself. What can be more unfanciful, and yet what more affecting, or more sublime , than his representation of a young woman watching over the gradual decay of her lover ?
“ Still long she nursed him; tender thoughts meantime
Were interchanged, and hopes and views sublime.
The following verses of Slatius, though they do not reach the elevation of the preceding passage, yet excel in the same picturesque simplicity; and afford an agreeable glimpse of the happiness wbich sometimes gladdens the interior of a cottage :-
6 Velut Appula conjux
Instruit, expectatque sonum redeuntis aratri.”-Silv. lib. 5. Still more unambitious is the language in which Virgil describes the opening of day over the humble roof of Evander :
" Evandrum ex humili tecto lux suscitat alma,
Et matutini yolucrum sub culmine cantus."
Yet, in these plain words, there is a charm, which the two greatest masters of verse