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Mr. Southey was of the same mind with Sir Philip Sidney in preferring an excellent ballad in the humblest style of poetry to twenty indifferent poems that strutted in the highest. And by what have his works, published since then, been characterized, each more strikingly than the preceding, but by greater splendor, a deeper pathos, profounder reflections, and a more sustained dignity of language and of metre ? Distant may the period be, but whenever the time shall come, when all his works shall be collected by some editor worthy to be his biographer, I trust that an excerpta of all the passages, in which his writings, name, and character have been attacked, from the pamphlets and periodical works of the last twenty years, may be an accompaniment. Yet that it would prove medicinal in after times, I dare not hope; for as long as there are readers to be delighted with calumny, there will be found reviewers to calumniate. And such readers will become in all probability more numerous, in proportion as a still greater diffusion of literature shall produce an increase of sciolists ; and sciolism bring with it petulance and presumption. In times of old, books were as religious oracles; as literature advanced, they next became venerable preceptors ; they then descended to the rank of instructive friends; and as their numbers increased, they sunk still
lower to that of entertaining companions; and at present they seem degraded into culprits to hold up their hands at the bar of every selfelected, yet not the less peremptory, judge, who chuses to write from humour or interest, from enmity or arrogance, and to abide the decision in the words of Jeremy Taylor) “ of him that reads in malice, or him that reads after dinner.”
The same gradual retrograde movement may be traced, in the relation which the authors themselves have assumed towards their readers. From the lofty address of Bacon: “ these are the meditations of Francis of Verulam, which that posterity should be possessed of, he deemed their interest:" or from dedication to Monarch or Pontiff, in which the honor given was as. serted in equipoise to the patronage acknowleged from PINDAR's
Πάπταινε πορσιον. .
OLYMP. OD. I.
Poets and Philosophers, rendered diffident by their very number, addressed themselves to “ learned readers ;" then, aimed to conciliate the graces of the candid reader ;" till, the critic still rising as the author sunk, the amateurs of literature collectively were erected into a municipality of judges, and addressed as the town! And now finally, all men being supposed able to read, and all readers able to judge, the multitudinous PUBLIC, shaped into personal unity by the magic of abstraction, sits nominal despot on the throne of criticism. But, alas ! as in other despotisms, it but echoes the decisions of its invisible ministers, whose intellectual claims to the guardianship of the muses seem, for the greater part, analogous to the physical qualifications which adapt their oriental brethren for the superintendance of the Harem. Thus it is said, that St. Nepomuc was installed the guardian of bridges because he had fallen over one, and sunk out of sight; thus too St. Cecilia is said to have been first propitiated by musicians, because having failed in her own attempts, she had taken a dislike to the art, and all its successful professors. But I shall probably have occasion hereafter to deliver my convictions more at large concerning this state of things, and its influences on taste, genius and morality.
In the “ Thalaba" the “ Madoc” and still more evidently in the unique* Cid,” the “ Kehama," and as last, so best, the “ Don Roderick;" Southey has given abundant proof, “se cogitâsse quam sit magnum dare aliquid in manus hominum : nec persuadere sibi posse, non sæpe tractandum quod placere et semper et omnibus cupiat.” Plin. Ep. Lib. 7. Ep. 17. But on the other hand I guess, that Mr. Southey was quite unable to comprehend, wherein could consist the crime or mischief of printing half a dozen or more playful poems; or to speak more generally, compositions which would be enjoyed or passed over, according as the taste and humour of the reader might chance to be; provided they contained nothing immoral. In the present age “ perituræ parcere chartæ" is emphatically an unreasonable demand. merest trifle, he ever sent abroad, had tenfold better claims to its ink and paper, than all the silly criticisms, which prove no more, than that
* I have ventured to call it “ unique;" not only because I know no work of the kind in our language (if we except a few chapters of the old translation of Froissart) none, which uniting the charms of romance and history, keeps the imagination so constantly on the wing, and yet leaves so much for after reflection; but likewise, and chiefly, because it is a compilation, which in the various excellencies of translation, selection, and arrangement, required and proves greater genius in the compiler, as living in the present state of society, than in the original composers.
the critic was not one of those, for whom the trifle was written ; and than all the grave exhortations to a greater reverence for the public. As if the passive page of a book, by having an epigram or doggrel tale impressed on it, instantly assumed at once loco-motive power and a sort of ubiquity, so as to Autter and buz in the ear of the public to the sore annoyance of the said mysterious personage. But what gives an additional and more ludicrous absurdity to these lamentations is the curious fact, that if in a volume of poetry the critic should find poem or passage which he deems more especially worthless, he is sure to select and reprint it in the review ; by which, on his own grounds, he wastes as much more paper than the author, as the copies of a fashionable review are more numerous than those of the original book ; in some, and those the most prominent instances, as ten thousand to five hundred. I know nothing that surpasses the vileness of deciding on the merits of a poet or painter (not by characteristic defects ; for where there is genius, these always point to his characteristic beauties; but) by accidental failures or faulty passages ; except the impudence of defending it, as the proper duty, and most instructive part, of criticism. Omit or pass slightly over, the expression, grace, and grouping of Raphael's figures; but ridicule in detail the knitting