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THOMAS CAMPBELL, ESQ.
SPECIMENS OF BRITISH POETS.
SHORT time since a friend of yours, and one of the most distinguished poets of the present day, informed me that there had appeared, in the Morning Chronicle, an extract from your Specimens of British Poets, entitled, “ CAMPBELL's Answer to Bowles." I have since read, with much pleasure, the work from which the extract was taken; and I beg to return you my thanks, for the kind manner with which my name is introduced, though you profess to differ from me, and state at large the grounds of that difference, on a point of criticism. The criticism of mine, which you have discussed, is that which appears in the last volume of the last edition of Pope's Works, entitled, “ On the Poetical Character of Pope."
As the opinion pronounced by the editor of the Morning Chronicle will probably be the opinion of all who read, without much reflection, not my criticism, but your representation of it; I am bound, in justice to myself, to state the grounds of my proposition clearly; to meet the arguments you have brought against it, manfully but respectfully; and to make the public (at least that part of the public which may be interested in such a discussion) a judge between us!
I feel it the more incumbent on me to do this, knowing the deserved popularity of your name, and the impression which your representation of my arguments must make on the public; though I must confess, it does appear to me that you could not have read the criticism which you discuss.
I do not think that any thing, Sir, you have advanced, at all shakes the propositions I have laid down; and, moreover, I do not doubt I shall be able to prove that you have misconceived my meaning; ill supported your own arguments; confounded what I had distinguished ; and even given me grounds to think you
had replied to propositions which you never read, or, at least, of which you could have read only the first sentence, omitting that which was integrally and essentially connected with it.
In an article in the Edinburgh Review, the same mis-statement was made, and the same course of argument pursued. I feel, in deed, bound to thank Mr. JepFREY, if he wrote the article, for the liberal tribute he paid to my poetry, at the expense of my canons of criticism. But in truth, from the coincidences here remarked, I might be led to think Mr. CAMPBELL wrote the Review, were I not more disposed to think he drew his knowledge of my criticism on Pope, not from the criticism itself, but, at second-hand, from the criticism on the criticism in that Review, inadvertently involving himself in all its misconceptions and misrepresentations.
For, I beg you to observe, Sir, that in my first proposition, I do not say that WORKS OF ART are in no instances poetical ; but only that “what is sublime or beautiful in works of nature is MORE so!" The very expression “more so" is a proof that poetry belongs, though not in the same degree, to both. I must also beg you to remark, that, having laid down this position, I observe, in the very next sentence, (lest it should be misunderstood as it now is, and was by a writer in the Edinburgh Review,) substantially as follows-that the loftier passions of human nature are more poetical than artificial manners; the one being eternal, the other local and transitory. I think the mere stating of these circumstances will be sufficient to show, that both the Edinburgh Review and yourself have completely misrepresented my meaning. With respect to the images Y ROM ART, which you have adduced as a triumphant answer to what I laid down, I shall generally observe, that your own illustrations are against you. The Edinburgh Review, in the same manner, had spoken of the Pyramids. Now the Pyramids of Egypt, the Chinese Wall, &c. had occurred to me, at the time of writing, as undoubtedly POETICAL in Works of ART; but I supposed that any reflecting person would see that these were poetical, not essentially as works of art, but from associations both with the highest feelings of nature, and some of her sublimest external works. The generations swept away round the ancient base of the Pyramids, the ages that are past since their erection, the mysterious obscurity of their origin, and many other complex ideas, enter into the imagination at the thought of these wonderful struc tures, besides the association with boundless deserts; as the Wall of China is associated with unknown rocks, mountains, and rivers. Build a pyramid of new brick, of the saine dimensions as the pyramids of Egypt, in Lincoln's-Inn Fields, and then say how much of the poetical sublimity of the immense and iinmortal piles in the de serts of Egypt is derived, not from art, but from moral associations! Place your own image of the “GIANT OF THE WESTERN STAR” upon such a pyramid, if it could be made as high as the Andes, and say whether it would be considered as poetical as now it appears, “ looking from its throne of clouds v'er half the world.” I had often considered these and such instances generally and specifically; and I think, if you reflect a moment, you will agree with me, that though they are works of art, they are rendered POETICAL chiefty by moral associations and physical circumstances. But to come to your most interesting example. Let us examine the ship which you have described so beautifully. On what does the poetical beauty depend ? not on art, but NATURE.” Take away the waves, the winds, the sun, that, in association with the streamer and sails, make them look so beautiful! take all poetical association away, ONE will become a strip of blue bunting, and the other a piece of coarse canvas on three tall poles !!
You speak also of the poetical effect of the drum and fife! Are the drum and fife poetical, without other associatious ? In the quotation from Shakespeare which you adduce, the fife is “ ear piercing, and the drum is " spirit stirring ;” and both are associated, by the consummate art of Shakespeare--with what ?--with the “ PRIDE, POMP, and CIRCUMSTANCE of GLORIOUS WAR!” and passions and pictures are called up; those of fortitude, of terror, of pity, &c. &c.; arms glittering in the sun, and banners, waving in the Air. It is these pictures and passions from NATURE,4 and these alone, which make a drum or tife poetical; and let the same drum or fife be heard before a booth in a fair, or in a regiment with wooden guns, and this poetical effect will be lost. I therefore turn your own instances against you.
What I said respecting descriptive poetry, in my Essay on the 'A London critic, in the Quarterly Review, says, he knows nothing of Nature, external, moral, or general! I believe him.
2 As Mr. D'Israeli has taken such antipathy tu " NATURE," I have left out the word, where the sense could be understood without it.
3 Lord Byron's argument is a verbal quibble on “ Tuke away.". The sense will be obvious, though it is true, if there were no sea, there would be no ships !! But the chief poetical beauty is nevertheless derived from Nature, according to Mr. CAMPBELL's own description.
* To distinguish from local and artificial manners.
Poetical Character of Pope, was not with a view of showing that a poet should be a botanist, or even a Dutch painter; but that no one could be “pre-eminent," as a great (descriptive) poet, without this knowledge, which peculiarly distinguishes Cowper alid Thomson. The objects I had in view, when I used the expressions objected to, were Pope's Pastorals and Windsor Forest. I will appeal to your own quotation from the first of these poets. Why is Cowper so eminent as a descriptive poet? for I am now speaking of this part of his poetical character alone. Because he is the most accurate describer of the works of external nature, and for that reason is superior, as a descriptive poel, to Pope. Every tree, and every peculiarity of color and shape, are so described, that the reader becomes a spectator, and is doubly interested with the truth of coloring, and the beauty of ihe scene, so vividly and so delightfully painted; and you yourself have observed the same in your criticism on this exquisite poet, in WORDS AS DECISIVE AS MY OWN.
Having thus merely stated my sentiments in general, as they stand in order and connexion in the Essay on the Poetic Character of Pope, I shall now pursue your arguments more in detail.
as the subject of inspired fiction, nature includes artificial forms and manners, “RICHARDSON is no less a painter, of nature than Homer!" I will not stoop to notice your vague expression of “inspired fiction ;" but will admit that RICHARD son is not less a painter of nature than Homer, For, indeed, RICHARDSON,
Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet,
Ut magus! But let us take Clarissa Harlowe, the most affecting of RICHARDSON'S " inspired fictions !" Though Lovelace be a character in ARTIFICIAL LIFE, the interest we take in the bistory of Clarissa is, derived from PASSIONS. Its great characteristic is PATHOS ; and this I have distinguished as a far more essential property of poetry than flowers and leaves! The passions excited make Rie CHARDSON so far, and no farther, poetical. There is nothing puetical in the feathered bat or the sword-knot of Lovelace; nor in the gallant but artificial manners of this accomplished villain. In Sir Charles Grandison the character of Clementina is poetical, and for the same reasons; but there is nothing very poetical io Sir Charles himself, or “the venerable Mrs. Shirley!"
I must here observe, that when I speak of passions as poetical, I speak of those which are most elevated or pathetic; for it is true, passions are described in TERENCE as well as SOPHOCLES; but
Mr. CAMPBELL'S own quotation will be seen in the Postscript. 2 This is the reason why I used the expression of passions derived from manners
Iconfine my definition to what is heroic, sublime, pathetic, or beautiful, in human feelings; and this distinction is kept in view through the Essay on the Poetic Character of Pope. SHAKSPEARE displays the same wonderful powers in Falstaff as in Lear, but not the same poetical powers; and the provinces of comedy and tragedy will be always separate ; the one relating to the passions, the other combined with the passing fashions, and incidental variations of the “Cynthia of the minute."
To proceed; you say, “Homer himself is a minute describer of the works of art!" But are his descriptions of works of art more poetical than his descriptions of the great feelings of nature? Nay, the whole of the Odyssey derives its peculiar charm from the scenes of NÁTURE; as the Iliad does from its loftier passions. But do you really think that the catalogue of the Grecian ships is as poetical as the animated horses of Achilles ; and do you think HoMER would have been so great a poet, if he had been only a minute describer of works of art? Jejune as the catalogue of the leaders and ships is, how much more interesting and poetical is it rendered by the brief interpositions of varied and natural landscape; and it is this very circumstance that gives the dry account any interest at all. ' Besides, was the age of HOMER an'æra of refinement or artificial life? by whom not even such a poetical work of art as a bridge is mentioned !
But RichaRDSON and HOMER are not sufficient to overwhelm me and my hypothesis ; and it is remarked, as if the argunient were at once decisive, that Multon is full of imagery derived from art; “Satan's spear,” for example, is compared to the "MAST OF SOME GREAT AMMIRAL!”: Supposing it is, do you really think that such a comparison makes the description of Satan's spear a wbit more poetical? I think much less so. But MilTON was not so unpoetical as you imagine, though I think bis simile does not greatly add to our poetical ideas of Satan's spear !
mast of the great admiral” might have been left out; but remark, in this image MILTON DOES NOT compare Satan's spear “with the mast of some great admiral," as you assert. The passage is,
Mr. CAMPBELL'asks me if gyepupas might not signify a bridge: I answer, it may signify any thing that connects the two banks of a river: but he is very welcome to the bridge, and it shall be as beautiful in architecture as Westminster bridge, if he likes: Yet what will it serve him respecting the nain argument? which was, that Homer lived in an age before the existence of works of the highest perfection in art, so his Jupiter, Apollo, and Neptune, and his must exquisite delineations of scenes of nature, and forms of gods, and passions of the heart, could not have been derived from those secondary sources of intellectual delight.