« ForrigeFortsæt »
ness too, unless we could contrive some way to inspire wealth with genius, and make thosè, who have nothing to do but amuse them. selves, willing to seek the noblest amusement, the revels of the soul.'
There is undoubtedly much truth in these remarks, but we think they support a different conclusion from that drawn by the author;-not, that the circumstances of the country require a man to publish a large quantity of undigested rhyme, but that they render it expedient for him, so far as a living is concerned, not to publish rhyme at all. For we suppose that if he cannot stay to make it good, no quantity will meet such a market as to give him a livelihood. Poetical jobs, however long they may be, will be far less gainful than some other more substantial and worldly jobs, and he who writes for a living, had best take
his pen only for prose and business. Otherwise, there is no course but to imitate Plautus, who had two trades, was a poet for his diversion, and helped to turn a mill in order to gain a livelihood.' There is also, we think, an historical inaccuracy in the supposition that it was their reward, which enabled other poets to spend time in perfecting their works. On the contrary, they have been for the most part notoriously destitute of reward, performing their toils beneath the application of a far different stimulus. Those who have received the largest remuneration, have by no means been most remarkable for spending months and years in perfecting a few hundred lines.'
There is another supposition in this paragraph equally un. founded; that is, that careful revision necessarily results in tameness; and it is insinuated though not asserted, that it has been so in fact. Now there is undoubtedly a mean to be observed, and force and sense are never to be sacrificed to the harmony of sounds. But certainly carelessness, harshness, obscurity, and grammatical inaccuracies are not necessary to sense and force ; and these are the very evils of hasty composition, which a revision is to remedy. Certainly also, the retreuching of redundancies, and the substitution of happier epithets or more perfect rhymes, than sometimes occur at first, do not imply that the work must thus become insipid.
But,' continues Mr. P. our correctest poets are not our greatest. (We say ours, when we talk of England.) The master spirits, who rise, like the Dii majores, above the herd of the correct, the polished, the decent, and the pretty, have never been too lavish of their corrections, and yet their fame will live longest. Is not Chaucer one of the most immortal of our poets? He has certainly been the longest lived, and has now all the freshness of a green old age. But he wrote much, very much indeed, and one would think very rapidly and negligently; yet his readers love him
none the less for that. Did Shakespeare and Spencer correct much? I trow not."
Here again is a total want of discrimination, every thing in the extreme. Our author speaks as if it were to the prejudice of a poet to be correct and polished,' and as if it were impossible to revise and correct without being too lavish of corrections.' There is no force in such remarks. As for the three examples brought forward, it may or may not be true that they were scrupulous in revision. The assumption that they were not is perfectly gratuitous, for the imperfections of their works may be owing to other causes than want of care. Allowing that they were not, those master spirits' are no examples for other men; and no one should avail bimself of their authority until he feels conscious of possessing equal power with them to triumph in spite of disadvantages. —And after all, we must not keep out of sight the sober truth, that even the works of these men would be the better for correction, and that their defects are perpetual cause of lamentation.
Even Milton seems often to have left his finest passages as they came fresh from the overflowing riches of his mind; at least one would think he did not blot much, when he sent cowls and hoods, beads and reliques, flying over the back side of the world into limbo.'
That is to say, he did not blot this passage ; it affords no presumption however, that he wrote without revision. What is said of some of his finest passages is unquestionably true, as it is, we suppose, of every fine writer ; but it is far from proving the converse to be true, -that every passage which comes fresh from the overflowing mind, is therefore one of the finest passages. • Some, too, cannot endure
way of writing but the rapid, They are as impatient of the labor limæ, as a convict of a treading mill. They love only what comes out in some rare moment of gladness, like a full stream of bright fancies; or if they take to a darker mood, they can only be satisfied with the outpourings of a bursting heart. These must write rapidly, and only two things can check them,-the heart-sinking, which is their so common inheritance, and the medusean frown of the public, which will finally harden every thing to stone. If both are united in one, there is much danger that
petrifaction will follow.' This is returning to what the preface began with an acknowledgment that disinclination, impatience of the labour, is the real cause of this haste. Every thing else which has been brought forward, is a faint attempt to cover and apologize for this disinclination ; a pretence to justify what on the face of it is unjustifiable. We are mortified to find an accomplished scholar striving thus
to shield bis weakness, and wasting his ingenuity in the invention of arguments to prove a necessity for leaving his works incomplete, and thus doing the most to defeat his own prospects of eminence and honour.
If we now look at the poem wbich was written in pursuance of this doctrine, and which the preface we have examined is designed to defend; we shall find it just what we might expect : sparkling with brilliant images, interspersed with beautiful descriptions, musical in the structure of the verse, and bearing marks throughout of the vigorous touches of a rich and lavish hand; but also spotted every where with the defects of an extemporaneous production—incomplete, unfinished, without proportion of parts, and without neatness in the details; sometimes crude in its conceptions, sometimes confused in its descriptions, sometimes inconsistent in its imagery, and sometimes inaccurate in its grammar, If it had been poured upon your ear just as it is, in the enthusiastic declamation of a skilful improvisatore, you would think it a wonderful exhibition, and would pass without notice the deformities we have named, as the unavoidable accompaniments of a spontaneous composition. But in a written and published poem, they become painful. If you stop to remember that it is the production of only a few days,' and therefore to be regarded as in some sense extemporaneous; you might think that indeed it is a remarkable work, but you could not extend to it the delighted allowance you give to an extemporaneous speech; and you would be likely to be displeased that one should think it worth while to intrude upon the world the basty effusions of his unpremeditated composition. It is impossible but that those inaccuracies, which pass unnoticed in the excitement of speaking, should be unpardonably offensive when seen upon paper in the coolness of retirement. This is so well understood, that no orator at the bar or in the senate, who values bis reputation, will suffer the report of his speech to be given to the public, until it bas undergone a leisurely correction. Is it possible that the opposite experiment should succeed in poetry? This is one of the highest and most perfect of arts. It demands excellence of various kinds—not only of thought, sentiment, passion, imagery, but of language; so essential indeed is an exact and exquisite diction, that no vigour of thought or fervour of passion will give a poet the highest place, except accompanied with the finished beauties of speech. And can these be expected always to spring forth spontaneously, accidentally, untried for, unsought after? There is an analogy which should not be lost sight of, between this art, and those of music, of painting, of sculpture. The per. fection of each consists in a great number of particulars, and
demands care as well as genius to produce it. What would be thought of the painter, who, impatient of application, and disdaining the drudgery of erasing and altering and retouching, should declare that those touches which come in the moment of their first conception, are the only genuine strokes of genius, and that all else is the cold and tame work of mechanical execution. What sort of a picture would his pencil produce? If he were indeed a man of genius, there might be good design, some happy disposition of light, and some striking glimpses of character. But it is plain that it must be, as a whole, unequal, incomplete, unsatisfactory; with a thousand minor blemishes to destroy the general effect, and to mar the pleasure which its marks of talent might give. The only remark would be, that it is a pity so fine a design should be spoiled.
The work before us is precisely such a picture. Its merits are those of fine genius, its faults those of haste. Some examples of each sort it is necessary to produce, in order to justify the remarks we have made.
In the first place, then, a prominent fault of Mr. Percival's poetry, which is found in every collection he has published, and which contributes greatly to embarrass his readers, is—a proneness to run into long periods; where one member is linked to another, until you have fairly lost sight of the idea with which you started, and are bewildered to know where you are. This is owing to the crowd of images and circumstances, which present themselves to the writer's prolific mind, from which he takes no pains to select, but which he feels bound by his system to put down as they occur one after another. This accumulating of circumstances and heaping together of images, tends to confuse and weary the reader, even when they are skilfully arranged. Much more so, when, as is often the case, they are thrown together very inartificially and carelessly, so as not only to fatigue by their number and cloy by their richness, but to perplex by the wilderness they make. It would sometimes require the wand of the fairy whom we read of in Aikin's tales, to disentangle the huge mass of golden and silken threads, and lay them in such order that we can contemplate with pleasure their richness and beauty. In one of the smaller poems, there is a single period thus constructed, of seventy-eight lines in duration, and another in the same poem of thirty-nine. It may easily be imagined how painful must be the suspension of the sense through so long an interval, and how confused the mind must become in attempting to gather together into one, all the parts of which the sentence is composed. There is frequent recurrence of faults similar to this. Periods of twelve, twenty, and thirty lines are not uncommon, New Series-vol. V.
which leave upon the mind an indistinct, unsatisfactory, bewil. dered sensation, which may be compared to the dazzling of the eye, when it looks at the sunshine through a prismatic glass. We will quote the last of the two passages referred to above. It is of a calmer and less gorgeous character than some, but will serve as an example of what we mean, as well as afford a fair specimen of our author's manner.
• There was a look of calmness in her thin
PP. 97, 98.