Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

letter, or in conversation, have I ever had dispute or controversy beyond the common social interchange of opinions. Nay, where I had reason to suppose my conyictions fundamentally different, it has been my habit, and I may add, the impulse of my nature, to assign the grounds of my belief, rather than the belief itself; and not to express dissent, till I could establish some points of complete sympathy, some grounds common to both sides, from which to commence its explanation.

wards, a review appeared on the same subject, in the concluding paragraph of which the reviewer asserts, that his chief motive for entering into the discussion was to separate a ratioual and qualified admiration of our elder writers, from the indiscriminate enthusiasm of a recent school, who praised what they did not understand, and caracatured what they were unable to imitate, And, that no doubt might be left concerning the persons alluded to, the writer annexes the names of Miss BAILIE, W. SOUTHEY, WORDSWORTH and COLERIDGE. For that which follows, I have only ear-say evidence ; but yet such as demands my belief; viz. that on being questioned concerning this apparently wanton attack, more especially with reference to Miss Bailie, the writer had stated as his motives, that this lady when at Edinburgh had declined a proposal of introducing him to her; that Mr. Southey had written against him; and Mr. Wordsworth had talked contemptuously of him ; but that as to Coleridge he had noticed him merely because the names of Southey and Wordsworth and Coleridge always went together. But if it were worth while to mix together, as ingredients, half the anecdotes which I either myself know to be true, or which I have received from men incapable of intentional falsehood, concerning the characters, qualifications, and motives of our anonymous critics, whose decisions are oracles for our read. ing public; I might safely borrow the words of the apocryphal Daniel ;“ Give me leave, O SOVEREIGN PUBLIC, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff.For the compound would be as the Pitch, and fat, and hair, which Daniel took, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof, and put into the dragon's mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder; and Daniel said LO; THESE ARE THE GODS YE WORSHIP."

Still less can I place these attacks to the charge of envy. The few pages, which I have published, are of too distant a date ; and the extent of their sale a proof too conclusive against their having been popular at any time; to render probable, I had almost said possible, the excitement of envy on their account ; and the man who should envy me on any other, verily he must be envy-mad!

Lastly, with as little semblance of reason, could I suspect any animosity towards me from vindictive feelings as the cause. I have before said, that my acquaintance with literary men has been limited and distant; and that I have had neither dispute nor controversy.

From my first entrance into life, I have, with few and short intervals, lived either abroad or in retirement. My different essays on subjects of national interest, published at different times, first in the Morning Post and then in the Courier, with my courses of lectures on the principles of criticism as applied to Shakspeare and Milton, constitute my whole publicity; the only occasions on which I could offend any member of thé republic of letters. With one solitary exception in which my words were first misstated and then wantonly applied to an indivi

[ocr errors]

dual, I could never learn, that I had excited the displeasure of any among my literary contemporaries. Having announced my intention to give a course of lectures on the characteristic merits and defects of English poetry in its different æras ; first, from Chaucer to Milton ; second, from Dryden inclusive to Thompson ; and third, from Cowper to the present day; I changed my plan, and confined my disquisition to the two former æras, that I might furnish no possible pretext for the unthinking to misconstrue, or the malignant to misapply my words, and having stampt their own meaning on them, to pass them as current coin in the marts of garrulity or detraction.

Praises of the unworthy are felt by ardent minds as robberies of the deserving; and it is too true, and too frequent, that Bacon, Harrington, Machiavel, and Spinosa, are not read, because Hume, Condilliac, and Voltaire are. But in promiscuous company no prudent man will oppugn the merits of a contemporary in his own supposed department; contenting him. self with praising in his turn those whom he deerns excellent. : If I should ever deem it my duty at all to oppose the pretensions of individuals, I would oppose them. in books which could be weighed and answered, in which I could evolve the whole of my reasons and feelings, with their requisite limits and modifica

tions ; not in irrecoverable conversation, where however strong the reasons might be, the feelings that prompted them would assuredly be attributed by some one or other to envy and discontent. Besides I well know, and I trust, have acted on that knowledge, that it must be the ignorant and injudicious who extol the unworthy; and the eulogies of critics without taste or judgement are the natural reward of authors without feeling or genius. “Sint ünicuique sua premia.”

How then, dismissing, as I do, these three causés, áin I to account for attacksthe long continuance and inveteracy of which it would require all three to explain. The solution may seem to have been given, or at least suggested, in a note to a preceding page. I was in habits of intimacy with Mr. Wordsworth and Mr: Southey! This, however, transfers, rather than removes, the difficulty. Be it, that by an unconscionable extension of the old adage, “noscitur a socio” my literary friends are never under the water-fall of criticism, but I must be wet through with the spray; yet how came the torrent to descend upon them ?

First then, with regard to Mr. Southey. I well remember the general réception of his earlier publications : viz. the poems published with Mr. Lovell under the names of Moschus and Bion; the two volumes of poems under his own name, and the Joan of Arc. The censures of the critics by profession are extant, and may be easily referred to :-careless lines, inequality in the merit of the different poems, and (in the lighter works) a prediliction for the strange and whimsical ; in short, such faults as might have been anticipated in a young and rapid writer, were indeed sufficiently enforced.

Nor was there at that time wanting a party spirit to aggravate the defects of a poet, who with all the courage of uncorrupted youth had avowed his zeal for a cause, which he deemed that of liberty, and his abhorrence of oppression by whatever name consecrated. But it was as little objected by others, as dreamt of by the poet himself, that he preferred careless and prosaic lines on rule and of forethought, or indeed that he pretended to any other art or theory of poetic diction, besides that which we may all learn from Horace, Quintilian, the admirable dialogue de Causis Corruptæ Eloquentiæ, or Strada’s Prolusions ; if indeed natural good sense and the early study of the best models in his own language had not infused the same maxims more securely, and, if I may venture the expression, more vitally. All that could have been fairly deduced was, that in his taste and estimation of writers Mr. Southey agreed far more with Warton, than with John

Nor do I mean to deny, that at all times

son.

« AnteriorContinuar »