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For a few minutes I remained conscious of no other sensation than that of delight. At length, I recollected it must be a spirit, and that spirits always require to be questioned: I therefore rose from my seat, and with a tolerably firm voice exclaimed, “ Celestial visitant ! 'wherefore dost thou deign thy presence here? who-what art thou ? I conjure thee, speak!"
“Mortal!" she replied, in a solemn yet entrancing tone, “ behold the Muse of Britain !” At that revered name, I was preparing to throw myself at her feet, as well as the rocky inequalities of the ground would permit, but she prevented me: “ Forbear! kneel not to me! to me, mortals kneel no longer. I know your respect, your warm and disinterested affection, and therefore I am come at last
“ To inspire me?" interrupted I, glowing with hope.
“ No, my dear madam,” replied the Muse, “ to warn you, to advise you, to give up writing poetry.” I felt indescribably shocked and disappointed. “I did intend,” continued she, « that for the next ten years, at least, you should have surprised and delighted the people over whose poetical regions I am appointed to preside, with sonnets on the moonlines written at sunset-to a daisy-on the death of a pet linnet-to a young lady on entering her teens-beside odes on the births, marriages, and deaths of all the distinguished ladies and gentlemen of your day.
“ Alas !” I exclaimed pathetically, “it is almost cruel to reveal to me the knowledge of what I might have been. Wherefore, O goddess, am I thus forbidden?”
“ Hush !” she replied, “ dost thou not see who comes? look !" I looked, and saw no one but a well-dressed, gentleman-like, and rather handsome young man, on horseback. He dismounted within a few paces, took off his hat, and advancing with an air of strained courtesy, bowed to the Muse, but of me he took no notice. She whispered: “ He is a reviewer ; now you will have reasons for my warning, plenty as blackberries.'
“I really feel, madam, very sorry,” said he, “ that there should exist a necessity for a second conversation on the subject of our last-a subject, I am aware, so disagreeable to you ; but the people murmur more than ever, and we have no alternative but that of representing their complaints to you. I must, therefore, entreat your permission once more to repeat that we are, to our great annoyance, overrun with poetasters. The productions of young gentlemen and young ladies abound; but as to the rhyming fruitfulness of middle-aged ladies, there really is no end of it.” At this unexpected attack on middle-aged ladies, I caught up a piece of the Muse's blue drapery, and in spite of her movements, and the efforts of the breeze, I held it firmly before my face during the remainder to the interview. “I venture to assure you, madam," continued the reviewer, “ that unless you restrain the profusion of your minor gifts, poetry itself will not be worth an old song. Only mark of late, under the head of correspondence, the space we are forced to dedicate to, · We beg to decline the poetry of R. L., O. P., M. N. R. ; in short, all the letters of the alphabet more than once repeated. The mechanism of your art has become too much practised upon, consequently the difficulty consists no longer in writing poetry, but in reading it; and if some timely remedy be not applied, the art itself, contrary to the general law of our nature, will be destroyed by its own fecundity, lost by its own redundance."
The reviewer paused: the Muse replied, “Before I venture any observation on the evil you complain of, permit me to ask what remedy you are authorised to propose ?"
“ The same I hinted at when last I had the honour of seeing you : absent yourself for a time altogether; take your flight into other spheres, for you appear to have exhausted every thing in this; other orbs must be searched for novelty, for not one grain of it remains here. Renovate your youth ! ‘rekindle its mighty vigour ! Alas, madam! when Spenser caressed you, you were a beautiful child, budding, fresh, and luxuriant in your beauty; and when wooed and won by happy Shakspeare, you had just dawned into womanhood ; simple yet rich, natural yet perfect in grace, seductive in loveliness, magnificent in power. Then, in riper age, did you re-appear to our astonished eyes in the pure majesty of Milton. But while we worship these unrivalled stars of our poetical hemisphere, we fail not to praise and admire the beautiful constellations which shone out after them, and to which have just been added the bright orbs of Byron and of Scott. These were your latest efforts; and now I would not for the world say a rude thing to a lady we reviewers never do—but I only just venture to hint that you are considered un peu passée, which accounts for your associating so much more than formerly with ladies, while the gentlemen stand aloof. The simple and easy expedient I have mentioned, a flight in search of renovation to other worlds, will set all to rights again.”
A short pause, during which the muse seemed anxious to suppress her emotion, ensued-at length she said, “ You have, it seems, addressed me in the name of your country; therefore, I do not reply to you individually, nor in your capacity of reviewer.
“ As I have resided long among you, I acknowledge I may have so far imbibed your terrestrial nature, as to be affected by your great magician, Time; great both for the purposes of good and evil. He has diffused my art, and, consequently, you conceive, has rendered it less precious.
“ By the same reasoning, were I to present you with a Milton and Shakspeare even twice in a century, you would begin to desire something beyond even a Milton and Shakspeare.
“I am aware of the peculiar delicacy of my art; it does not, like music or painting, address itself to the senses: its operation is solely on the mind's eye; and the mind that is capable of receiving and enjoying the impressions of poetry, is itself of superior stamp; consequently poetry will never please the many, however they may affect pleasure. It has been the fashion to admire it, it is now the fashion not to admire it; but these vacillations of caprice can never affect my true votaries, either those who create, or those who love and enjoy their creation.
“ Conscious of all I had to contend with, I have bestowed upon you master-models in some of the various walks of my art. These angel visits have been few and far between,' and so I intend they shall continue. From what sources the next gifted spirit shall concentrate his rays of intellectual light, whether he must draw them from worlds unknown, or whether he may prove to you, that the moral and physical powers of this that you inhabit, are not quite so exhausted for the poet, as you imagine, remains for me alone to decide.” And a slight expression of irony curled the lip of the Muse.
“ Although in my poetical garden, I plant with a sparing hand the magnificent and sturdy oak, do I not adorn it with the delicate and clasping ivy? Is it not surrounded by shrubs and flowers of every scent and hue? the modest and perfumed violet droops at your feet, the beautiful rose courts your glance, the graceful and sweet-scented jessamine wreathes around you-are these nothing ? are these exquisite gifts of no value, because they are showered upon you with a less frugal hand ? Believe me, they who cannot perceive beauty, or extract fragrance from these, are not the best qualified to judge of the more sublime productions, to comprehend their utility, and to feel their power.
“ There is one question, too, I have to put, which I would fain have avoided; it is as painful for me to ask, as it will probably be for you to answer. Among the poets I have inspired and presented to you, from
Sept. 1835.-VOL. XIV.—NO. LIII.
whose lips the precepts of wisdom have flowed in strains of the purest harmony, who have strewed flowers over the rugged path of science, who have refined and elevated your rude and grovelling natures, who have opened your eyes to perceive, and softened your hearts to feel the power, the beauty, the goodness, of all that surrounds you—which among them have been rewarded by your gratitude, nourished by your bounty, or cheered by your praise? Which is he among you, whose fate you would point to as an encouragement to genius ?—the neglected Milton the poverty-stricken author of Hudibras ? the oppressed Savage ? the starving Otway? I tell you,” (and indignation crimsoned the brow, and darted from the eye of the Muse,) “ I tell you, Britain never yet has bestowed a just meed on one of her bards-no, not on one, from the venerable Chaucer down to him of the north, whose grave is yet fresh among you.
“ The gift of poetry, I acknowledge, is in some measure its own reward; they to whom I have imparted it, live in a creation of their own; and the developement of their powers is to them a source of enjoyment, of which others can have no conception. The arılent love of fame, and the secret certainty of possessing or attaining it, is another treasure of the soul which none take from them; but these blessings they receive from me—for what have they to thank you? The snares of envy encompass them, the snakes of calumny hiss in their path; their errors, their frail. ties, their vices, (if they have any,) are held up as matter of peculiar triumph; their worldly-minded relatives often regard and treat them as a species of useless, idle, unnecessary beings. If, in the headlong warmth and inexperience of youth, they may have committed some luckless scribble, which their maturer reason condemns, the ghost of this thing is mercifully made to haunt them through life; the intimate familiarity of private intercourse is not with them held sacred ; every careless word is noted down to be afterwards thrown to a greedy and malicious public; less, perhaps, with any evil design, than that the retailers may tack their own little names to the tail of the comet, within whose vortex they have been accidentally drawn.
“ But when death has closed the scene, and when you are quite sure that praise and honour can no longer reach the ear, or warm the heart, you begin to dole them out; you place the name of your departed poet on your list of fame; and you point it out to those who come after, less as a model, than as an additional bar to their progress.
“ The improved education and condition of your women, have of late wonderfully brought out their mental powers. There is scarcely any walk of literature in which they have not shone during the last halfcentury; and I venture to pronounce that no country every possessed a more beautiful cluster of poetesses than yours does at this moment; they are the flowers of my garden-crush them not! affect not to despise them-and above all suppress your jealousy: for be assured that in the lighter departments of my art, they are much better calculated to excel than you are.
“ There are also some living poets of the other sex among you, rich in sentiment and pathos, vivid, delicate, powerful-these are the ripe and delicious fruits of my garden. Weeds, indeed, will spring up where the soil is rich, but time and good taste quietly and quickly remove them. Cultivate then, and enjoy what you possess, and in my own good time I may grant one of those magnificent productions, you fancy you require."
The reviewer bowed lower than he had yet done, and said, “ We thank you, madam.” Then, after a pause, “It is far from becoming, to attempt to bandy words and arguments with you, yet I feel a great wish to extenuate (for I know I cannot entirely remove) the blame you have thrown upon my country, in regard to her treatment of your chil. dren. Recollect, madam, I beseech you, that they are peculiarly re. markable as to their unfitness for our every-day-working world; they are so deficient in prudence, tact, and common sense, and often so overrun with vanity, that it is almost impossible to make them act like common mortals in common life. I acknowledge there have been some exçeptions, and each individual may possess his own shade of exception, but as a body this is their general character; and to this, quite as much as to any neglect on our part, is to be attributed their misfortunes. Let them look to the example of Goëthe, who possessed that perfect selfgovernment which enabled him to keep separate his own world of romance and poetry, from the one he himself bonâ fide inhabited, and where the same run of duties and cares were allotted to him, as to the rest of his fellow-creatures.
“ One more word as to another charge you have brought against us, (the public,) and I have done. The curiosity and interest we express concerning the private opinions, conversations, and habits of these gifted individuals, prove that they are any thing but indifferent to us; and the natural workings of their minds, if displayed with acuteness and fidelity, may not only raise them much higher than they otherwise would stand in our estimation, but may present to the observer of human nature, a study the most important and improving.
“No doubt, madam, all that you have said upon the subject of poetry is very wise and true ; but as a reviewer, I am bound to consult the public taste, and therefore
“And therefore,” interrupted the Muse, “you will do what you can to expel poetry from her station in the arts and literature of your country. By thus acting, you do your own office almost as much injustice as you do mine. It is not for you merely to consult and to cater for the public taste; it is your far nobler duty to direct and to control it, to prevent its depravation, to raise its standard, and to encourage merit wherever you may find it.”
" True, madam-very true,” replied the reviewer, bowing and retreating as fast as possible towards his horse.
For some minutes after his departure the Muse remained in an attitude of deep reflection, which of course I did not presume to disturb: then turning to me, she said, in a kind and familiar tone, “Well, what do you think of our interview ?”
“ Madam," I replied, “ there cannot be two opinions on it; but will you permit me to ask you a question?"
“ Ask on.”
“Is it your intention to follow his suggestion, and for a time to quit our globe and traverse other spheres ?”
“I really have not made up my mind,” said the Muse: “I certainly do begin to be as tired of your country, as she can be of me. I have brought her subjects for poetry from the extreme east and west, north and south, till her appetite has become sickly. Of dramatic poetry I acknowledge there is a dearth; or rather, I ought to say, there is a dearth of taste for it; if the dramatic taste were good, I am sure there is genius to meet it, making allowance for one drawback-the language in which my Shakspeare wrote, exists no longer. But I am wandering from your question ; why did you ask it?".
i Because, madam,” said I ; “because-” and I coloured and hesitated, “ because I should very much indeed like to accompany you.”.
The muse started and smiled— I thought, very nearly laughed. “ But my faithful votary, have you so soon forgotten the sermon we have just had preached to us? recollect your duties and your cares! what would your busband and your children say at beholding you taking flight with !ne to wander among the stars ?”
“ You have, doubtlessly,” I replied, command over time as well as over space; and therefore, as in the tales of the East, the events of years might be compressed into a few hours or days at the utmost; these I could spare. O Muse, deny me not? Only imagine me fraught with the stupendous knowledge of other worlds and of other natures! hehold me alighting, as a superior and highly favoured being, among my fellow mortals, pouring forth the sublime secrets of the universe in torrents of impassioned eloquence or unpremeditated verse!"
I paused in the midst of my enthusiasm ; another idea presented itself. “And was there not something said—yes, surely there was—of a renewal of youth? Conceive my enjoyment! I would gather a beauty or snatch a grace from every star I passed, and leave a year behind me. The only evil I foresee likely to result from this glorious achievement, is, that ingenuity would be racked for the invention of effective wings, and that the air for a time might be darkened by clouds of elderly ladies; but, unsup. ported by your power, and in search only of physical renovation, they would but rise to fall. O Muse, deny me not !"
Just at this moment, and while she was bestowing upon me the most encouraging look, I felt a smart slap on my cheek. The Muse began to fade from my view; she waved her hand, but whether as an invitation or as an adieu I could not make out. Another tap, and merry laughter rang in my ears. I awoke; my children encircled me, the stars were sparkling above me, and the moon was just peeping from behind the Sugar-loaf; but I positively did not descend in spirit again to earth, my duties, cares, and middle age, until I had fairly exchanged the moon for my drawing-room lamp, and the stars for my cups and saucers.
E. B. E. N.
SPIRIT of all that is divine on earth!
Sole chastening essence of Creation's mould;-
m, where'er thy charms old,
Or in that spiritual galaxy of old,
The forest-nymphs who danc'd upon the wold,
Sublim'd in sweet conception, art enshrin'd
The living image of her deathless mind-