Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

consequently, this natural manner of moving through the air, and the term which expresses it, ought to be more poetical, because it is a natural image, than the image conveyed by sailing, which is a term taken from art. If, then, you acknowledge that " sailing" is more poetical than “flying with supreme dominion," what becomes of your invariable principles ?” Is not this an exception to them ? and have we not here an image taken from art more poetical than an image taken from nature? How then is the poet to determine, according to you, when two images present themselyes to him, one from nature, and the other from art? Is he invariably to prefer the image from nature ? if so, we should correct these two lines of Gray, by reading flying for sailing. But if there be cases in which the image from art ought to be preferred, your poetical principles are consequently not invariable. You should therefore favor us with one other principle to direct us, when the natural image ought to be rejected, and the image from art preferred. Such a principle must be unavoidably added to those which you have already laid down, before the poet can properly avail himself of your « invariable principles ;" for though this new principle will unfortunately prove the old ones not to be invariable; yet, without its presiding influence, we can never know when the image from art ought to be preferred to the image from nature; and we must in all cases follow the invariable principle that prefers the latter.

I am of opinion, that if any principle can be discovered which could enable us to use your invariable principles with proper caution, it would be, never to use images taken from art where the natural image can be admitted with propriety. Do you think your

invariable principles sufficiently guarded by this restriction? If not, I doubt whether you can discover a better yourself, and I suspect, you would have originally placed it among your prin

you had thought of it, or imagined they would be so vulnerable without it. But I fear, your invariable principles cannot stand, even supported by this saving prop.. Can any person suppose, that fying is not as properly, that it is not even more properly, applied to a bird than sailing ? yet, though the application is proper, and though the image which it pictures to the mind is natural, we find that this natural image is infinitely less poetical than the image taken from art. The eagle “ sailing with supreme dominion,” has a majesty in it that cannot be perceived in the eagle flying. But what does this majesty arise from ? Certainly, neither from art nor nature, using the term in your sense of it, but from association. There is a majesty in the motion of a ship in full sail, and we feel a peculiar pleasure in perceiving this majesty transferred to an object placed in a proud and elevated

ciples," if

situation, where it is increased by its association with sublimity. We do not wait to examine with a cold and calculating hesitancy, whether a term more natural and appropriate to the eagle could be found, but yield at once to the elevated emotion produced by the united ideas of sublimity and majesty. The poet never stipulates with us to use no terms or epithets but what are rigidly and philosophically true. We know his object is to please rather than to instruct, but, if possible, to unite pleasure with instruction. When, therefore, he selects such epithets as are better fitted to elicit pleasing emotions, than to exercise our understandings, we yield without hesitation to their seductive influence, never regarding whether they were taken from nature or from art, and never inquiring by what magic they produce their effect. This truth is happily expressed by Mr. Campbell, in his Lectures on Poetry, where his subject leads him to treat of poetic fiction, and to distinguish it from delusive representations in prose :

“ In poetry, and there alone, the illusion of language is not deception. When either the pleader misleads us into false sympathies, or the sophist into fanciful theories, there is no convention of the mind with their falsifications ; nor would the wildest zealot of the most Utopian school of philosophy, so far compromise the dignity of his own understanding, as to acknowledge to himself that for the sake of pleasure, he was voluntarily embracing

But in poetry we are transported to enthusiasm, with what, as to literal occurrence, we know on the slightest reflection to be a dream. Nor does the retrospect of the judgment at all prevent us from rebuilding, with fresh delight, the airy edifice which has been thus disenchanted.”

Having quoted from Mr. Campbell, I shall now examine the boast which you make relative to him, in your Reply to Lord Byron : “ Mr. Campbell declined, at least, farther contest-whether because he would not, or because he thought he could not, is of no consequence. Your Lordship implies that he would not ; I am bold to say he could not, and I am bolder to say even your Lordship cannot.”

Whether Mr. Campbell would not answer you, I cannot tell, but that he could answer you, I feel perfectly satisfied; for his « Lectures on Poetry” would furnish any writer with sufficient data to set your theory at rest. In your Letter to him, you have kept aloof from an observation of his which bore heaviest on your theory. He observes in his « Essay on English Poetry," that “ the faculty by which a poet luminously describes objects of art, is essentially the same faculty which enables him to be a faithful describer of

an error.

simple nature.". If this assertion be true, your theory avails but little, as it will be as difficult to excel in the one species as in the other; if it be not true, you ought to have disproved it in your Reply: He says, “ that artificial objects and manners are of so much importance in fiction, as to make an exquisite description of them no less characteristic of genius, than the description of simple physical appearances.To this you answer, in

your

6. Observations on the Poetical Character of Pope, in reply to Octavius Gilchrist,” that Mr. Campbell has mistaken your theory. “Mr. Campbell," you say, “judges that the exquisite description of artificial objects and manners is NOT LESS-(than what ? not less poetical than exquisite descriptions of nature ! no such thing ;) -EXQUISITE DESCRIPTIONS of artificial objects, are not less CHARACTERISTIC of GENIUS than the description of simple physical appearances !!The critic here confines himself to the first part of my proposition. Instead of answering this part, he says, the "exquisite description" of works of art, is not less characteristic of genius than descriptions of simple physical appearances ! Doubtless! but one half, and that the most essential, of my proposition, is entirely omitted, and the other half mistaken. Why not take the plain words of the proposition, and answer "negatur ?” Why confound the proposition by talking of « characteristics of genius ?"

This, Sir, is your defence against Mr. Campbell's stricture on your theory. Whether you would not or could not defend it better, I will not pretend to determine; but certain I am, that two propositions were never defended worse. You say, Mr Campbell has mistaken the first part of your proposition; I say he has not; and if I had never read his criticism, I could easily perceive the impossibility of his mistaking the first part of a proposition. A proposition makes only one affirmation, and he who mistakes this affirmation, mistakes the entire at once. He cannot mistake what precedes the affirmation per se, for as there is nothing affirmed, there is nothing to be mistaken in it. The same argument holds good with regard to what follows the affirmation ; so that it is impossible to mistake at all without mistaking the entire.

It happens, however, that the substance of your “invariable principles” are contained in two propositions, a circumstance which you might the more easily recollect, as you dignify the second with the title of consecutive, because, as you eloquently explain it, it follows, and does not go before. Neither of these has been mistaken by Mr. Campbell. You merely wish them to be mistaken because they will not bear to be understood: they will not endure the light of investigation, and therefore you would wish us to believe, that whenever we detect their absurdity, it is because we do not understand them. Your first proposition says, that images from the sublime in nature are more poetical than any images drawn from art. Your second says, that natural passions are more poetical than transient manners.

On the latter proposition, Mr. Campbell has indeed touched but lightly; but if he has overturned your first proposition, to what purpose do you cry out that he has omitted the other? Why are you so anxious of a defeat, that you cannot rest contented with having one of your propositions disproved ? The two propositions are independent of each other, and if one of them fall, it cannot be held up by the other. When Mr. Campbell says, “ that exquisite descriptions of works of art are not less characteristic of genius than descriptions of simple physical appearances,” you immediately add, “ doubtless." If this be doubtless, there is not the least doubt but your first proposition, at least, is frittered to shivers; and, therefore, instead of complaining, you should be thankful that he has passed over your second proposition almost unnoticed, as you might have every reason to apprehend it would meet a similar fate.

You defend your first proposition against Mr. Campbell, not by denying the truth of what he asserts, for this you admit in the most unqualified manner; but by adding that with all its truth, it is no answer to your proposition at all, that it confounds it by talking of " characteristics of genius.” If, however, you reflect for a moment, you will perceive that Mr. Campbell has not mistaken or confounded your proposition by talking of " characteristics of genius." The object of your proposition was, to lay down an « invariable principle,” which might serve as a test of “poetical excellency and poetical pre-eminence;" and it was by this test that you degraded Pope from the rank which he held

among the English poets. Your proposition was not intended to stand per se, as an idle principle that was applicable to no literary purpose. The consequence to be deduced from it was obvious, and you have taken care to deduce it yourself by adding, “if this," i.e. your poetical criterion, « be admitted, the rule by which we would estimate Pope's general poetical character would be obvious.' Whether this be obvious or not, it is as obvious as the light of heaven, that this inference which you have drawn from what you call your « mistaken” proposition, renders it a “ rule by which we should estimate poetical character.” For if it be applicable to Pope's poetical character, it must be equally so to that of all other poets, and consequently if it be a criterion of “poetical pre-eminence," as you elsewhere express it, it must be equally a criterion of poetical genius, which Mr. Campbell expresses by the term “characteristic of genius.” If this be mistaking your proposition, you must then maintain, that though it is applicable to “ Pope's poetical character or pre-eminence" as a poet, it is not at all applicable to his poetical genius; and if this be your doctrine, it is obvious that if Pope's poetical genius should rank him above Homer and Milton, it was still

possible that in point of poetical pre-eminence” he might not be qualified to rank with the veriest poetaster. Either this is your doctrine, or Mr. Campbell has not mistaken you ; but if it be, I think he acted right in suffering you to enjoy in quiet, a doctrine which he could not understand, and which even the influence of the “madding hour" would never mingle with the associations of the "moon-struck prophet.”

If Mr. Campbell then has mistaken your theory or proposition, it is because he could not think of attributing such a theory to any man in his senses. With regard to his omission of your consecutive proposition, I think he was not called upon to disprove what you have given up yourself, even if he had known, and you acknowledge yourself he did not know, that you had “spoken of passions as the most essential part of the higher order of poetry. I say that you have given up this proposition yourself in favor of Pope ; and if so, Mr. Campbell did well to pass it by unnoticed, Let me however explain myself when I say you have given up this proposition in favor of Pope.

You admit in your “Vindication" against the “ Quarterly Review," that “passions are the most essential part of the highest order of poetry. If then it appear that Pope excelled in this « essential part,” he does not come within the limits of your consecutive proposition in which the principle is laid down ; and as Mr. Campbell viewed your “invariable principles” only as they affected the poetical character of Pope, he wisely omitted taking any notice of it. That Pope did excel in this “essential part of the highest order of poetry,” is admitted by yourself ; nor do you confine yourself to the mere admission of his excellence in the pathetic, but you say, that he was never equalled in it. The proofs of this admission follow.

The passions of general nature you distinguish_into the pathetic and the sublime. To the pathetic you refer Pope's Eloisa to Abelard, and tell us that in this poem, Pope appears on the high ground of the poet of nature. It is sufficient that nothing of the kind has ever been produced equal to it for pathos, painting, and melody. When this transcendant poem is compared with those which will bear the comparison, I shall not be deemed as giving reluctant praise when I declare my conviction of its being infinitely superior to every thing of the kind ancient or modern." Is not this admitting as clearly and as forcibly as language can admit, that Pope has far excelled all poets in the most essential part of the highest order of poetry?" It is true you divide this part into two others--the pathetic and the sublime ; but as they are the

« ForrigeFortsæt »