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powers of Pope; and he would probably have been as unsuccessful, as in the composition of the epic which he commenced, but was wise enough to lay aside.
STANLEY. Pope is a consummate artist. I cannot regard him as a great poet. Divide our poets into two classes, and I am willing to allow Pope a place at the head of the second, unless Dryden is entitled to the pre-eminence.
HARTLEY. That there are two orders of poets Mr. Ruskin himself admits; but he will not acknowledge a third, and observes that with poetry second-rate in quality no one ought to be allowed to trouble mankind. The passage is a remarkable one, and I should like to read it to
you. It will at least serve to start a topic of conversation ; for, though STANLEY has referred to Pope, I presume he has not much to say about the Twickenham bard, whose poetry, despite the pictorial charm of “ Windsor Forest,”' is in the main didactic and satirical. Mr. Ruskin, then writes as follows. I read from the third volume of • Modern Painters :".
“ I admit two orders of poets, but no third ; and by these two orders I mean the creative (Shakspeare, Homer, Dante), and reflective or perspective (Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson). But both of these must be first-rate in their range, though their range is different; and with poetry second-rate in quality no one ought to be allowed to trouble mankind. There is quite enough of the best much more than we can ever read or enjoy in the length of a life ; and it is a literal wrong or sin in any person to encumber us with inferior work. I have no patience with apologies made by young pseudo-poets that they believe there is some good in what they have written ; that they hope to do better in time, &c. Some good ! If there is not all good, there is no good. If they ever hope to do better why do they trouble us
Let them rather courageously burn all they have done and wait for the better days. There are few men, ordinarily educated, who in moments of strong feeling could not strike out a poetical thought, and afterwards polish it so as to be presentable. But men of sense know better than so to waste their time, and those who sincerely love poetry, know the tones of the master's hand on the chords too well to fumble among them after him. Nay, more than this; all inferior poetry is an injury to the good, inasmuch as it takes away the freshness of rhymes, blunders upon, and gives a wretched commonalty to good thoughts, and in general adds to the weight of human weariness in a most woeful and culpable manner. There are few thoughts likely to come across ordinary men which have not already been expressed by greater men in the best possible way ; and it is a wiser, more generous, more noble thing to remember and point out the perfect words, than to invent poorer ones wherewith to encumber temporarily the world.”
Such is Mr. Ruskin's argument; and now tell me, both of you, whether you are prepared to join hands with him in thus doing homage to a few poets who occupy the loftiest peaks of Parnassus, and to a somewhat larger number who, with hands uplifted, may perhaps touch their skirts ; while all the lower eminences of the mountain, where sublimity fades into beauty, and the sun shines lovingly on wild flowers blossoming in nooks of retired beauty, or the laughing streamlet sings over the rounded pebbles as it leaps into the valley, are to be left without inhabitant, and without any voice save that of nature, who in her lowliest ways teaches us some of the sweetest and most enduring lessons ?
STANLEY. I think the passage you have read is one
which young, unfledged versifiers would do well to lay to heart. For I verily believe with Ruskin, that there is “much more” of the best poetry “than we can ever read enjoy in the length of a life."
Talbot. That may be true, and I have no sympathy with the encouragement sometimes afforded to the efforts of pseudo-poets. At the same time, I conceive that Mr. Ruskin's argument is utterly fallacious. Not even in poetry do we always care to dwell in sublime regions, as our choice of subject for these readings proves; and so long as a man is indeed a poet, and not a mere writer in verse, it matters not how lowly his order of genius may be. If Mr. Ruskin could have his wish, how many of those poems which are now household words—poems which, from their simplicity and tenderness, have become immortal—would be dismissed from our memories and hearts. Besides, were it even good to allow no poetry “ second-rate in quality," who is to be the judge, or where is the critic so satisfied with his own judgment as in all cases to be quite sure of what or what is not “inferior work"? Waller, as you remember, would have excluded " Paradise Lost” from the first and second order of poems, and Jeffrey would have excluded “ The Excursion." If, then, critics cannot be always certain, and by many notable instances it has been proved they cannot, of the position which, in the course of years, a poet may occupy, truly the poet himself— fresh from the regions of his fancy, and flushed with thoughts which, to say the least, are nobler than any which his skill in language has enabled him to express-is not likely
courageously to burn all he has done,” because far
above him in a sublime solitude, the soul of Milton dwells apart like a star; or because in a region of unapproachable beauty, our sage and sacred poet Spenser, rehearses the story of his “ Faerie Queene.”
STANLEY. The question to be discussed, with reference to Mr. Ruskin's argument, is whether common-place or second-rate poetry is to be tolerated, Right glad should I be to see the whole of it burnt on one vast pyre, more to encumber the ground.”
Talbot. “Common-place poetry” strikes me as a term without meaning. No verse that has the slightest claim to be termed "poetry,” can be “common-place." It is quite possible, however, that it may be second-rate in quality ; and it is against poetry of this stamp that Mr. Ruskin wages war.
“No one," he says, " should be allowed to trouble the world with it." But if the world asks for it, we may conclude the world needs it; and I believe there is far more demand for poetry of this class than for the great works of the greatest masters. I believe, too, there are moments when men even of high intellect, will prefer a simple touching song, full of heart, if not of inspiration, to the sublimest effort of a Milton, or a Dante.
HARTLEY. You are right, Talbot; and this belief of yours has been well expressed by Longfellow, who, after describing the sense of sadness “not akin to pain,” which comes over him at the evening hour, adds :
" Come read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
And banish the thoughts of day.
“ Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Through the corridors of time.
“For like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
And to-night I long for rest.
“ Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart
Or tears from the eyelids start.
“Who through long days of labour,
And nights devoid of ease,
Of wonderful melodies.
“Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
That follows after prayer.”
TALBOT. An apt though very familiar quotation. Truly a simple poem like this may be loved as much and repeated as often by the man who knows “the master's hand upon the chords,” and who is familiar with the greatest works of the greatest poets, as by the seventeen-year-old maiden, whose world of poetry is limited to “ Lalla Rookh," the occasional verses of Mrs. Hemans, and L. E. L., of Longfellow, and Tennyson. Indeed these stanzas answer Mr. Ruskin in words more effective than any which we could utter; for the “humbler poet,”
: of whom Longfellow speaks, evidently belongs to that