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Armor rusting in his halls
First shall head the flock of war ?".
The words themselves in the foregoing extracts, are, no doubt, sufficiently common for the greater part. But in what poem are they not so, if we except a few misadventurous attempts to translate the arts and sciences into verse ? In THE EXCURSION the number of polysyllabic (or what the common people call, dic. tionary) words is more than usually great. And so must it needs be, in proportion to the number and variety of an author's conceptions, and his solicitude to express them with precision. But are those words in those places commonly employed in real life to express the same thought or outward thing? Are they the style used in the ordinary intercourse of spoken words ? No! nor are the modes of connexions; and still less the breaks and transitions. Would any but a poet—at least could anyone without being conscious that he had expressed himself with no. liceable vivacity-have described a bird singing loud by, “ The thrush is busy in the wood ?”—or have spoken of boys with a siring of club-moss round their rusty hats, as the boys “ with their green coronal ?”—or have translated a beautiful May-day into “Both earth and sky keep jubilec?”—or have brought all the different marks and circumstances of a sea-loch before the mind, as the actions of a living and acting power? Or have represented the reflection of the sky in the water, as " That uncertain heaven received into the bosom of the steady lake ?” Even the grammatical construction is not unfrequently peculiar; as “ The wind, che tempest roaring high, the tumult of a tropic sky, might well be dan. gerous food to him, a youth to whom was given,” &c. There is a peculiarity in the frequent use of the drovápentov (that is, the omission of the connective particle before the last of several words, or several sentences used grammatically as single words, all being in the same case and governing or governed by the same verb) and not less in the construction of words by apposition (is to him, a youth"). In short, were there excluded from Mr. Wordsworth's poetic compositions all, that a literal adherence to the theory of his preface would exclude, two thirds at least of the marked beauties of his poetry must be erased. For a far greater number of lines would be sacrificed than in any other recent poet; because the pleasure received from Wordsworth's poems baing less derived either from excitement of curiosity or the rapid Aow of narration, the striking passages form a larger proportion of their value. I do not adduce it as a fair criterion of comparative excellence, nor do I even think it such; but merely as matter of fact. I affirm, that from no contemporary writer could so many lines be quoted, without reference to the poem in which they are found, for their own independent weight or beauty. From the sphere of my own experience I can bring to my recollection three persons of no every-day powers and acquirements, who had read the poems of others with more and more unalloyed
pleasure, and had thought more highly of their authors, as poets; - who yet have confessed to me, that from no modern work had so
many passages started up anew in their minds at different times, and as different occasions had awakened a meditative mood.
Remarks on the present mode of conducting critical journals. Long have I wished to see a fair and philosophical inquisition into the character of Wordsworth, as a poet, on the evidence of his published works; and a positive, not a comparative, appreciation of their characteristic excellences, deficiencies, and defects. I know no claim, that the mere opinion of any individual can have to weigh down the opinion of the author himself; against the probability of whose parental partiality we ought to set that of his having thought longer and more deeply on the subject. But I should call that investigation fair and philosophical in which the critic announces and endeavors to establish the principles, which he holds for the foundation of poetry in general, with the specific cation of these in their application to the different classes of poetry. Having thus prepared his canons of criticism for praise and condemnation, he would proceed to particularize the most striking passages to which he deems them applicable, faithfully noticing the frequent or infrequent recurrence of similar merits or defects, and as faithfully distinguishing what is characteristic from what is accidental, or a mere flagging of the wing. Then if his premises be rational, his deductions legitimate, and his conclusions justly applied, the reader, and possibly the poet himself, may adopt his judgment in the light of judgment and in the independence of free-agency. If he has erred, he presents his errors in a definite place and tangible form, and holds the torch and guides the way to their detection.
I most willingly admit, and estimate at a high value, the ser. vices which the EDINBURGH Review, and others formed after. wards on the same plan, have rendered to society in the diffusion of knowledge. I think the commencement of the EDINBURGA Review an important epoch in periodical criticism; and that it has a claim upon the gratitude of the literary republic, and indeed of the reading public at large, for having originated the scheme of reviewing those books only, which are susceptible and deserving of argumentative criticism. Not less meritorious, and far more faithfully and in general far more ably executed, is their plan of supplying the vacant place of the trash or mediocrity, wisely left to sink into oblivion by its own weight, with original essays on the most interesting subjects of the time, religious, or political; in which the titles of the books or pamphlets prefixed furnish only the name and occasion of the disquisition. I do not arraign the keenness or asperity of its damnatory style, in and for itself, as long as the author is addressed or treated as the mere impersonation of the work then under trial. (I have no quarrel with them on this account, as long as no personal allusions are admitted, and no re-commitment (for new trial) of juvenile performances, that were published, perhaps forgotten, many years before the commencement of the review: since for the forcing back of such works to public notice no motives are easily assig. nable, but such as are furnished to the critic by his own personal malignity; or what is still worse, hy a habit of malignity in the form of mere wantonness.
“ No private grudge they need, no personal spite :
The viva sectio is its own delight!
S. T. C. Every censure, every sarcasm respecting a publication which the critic, with the criticised work before him, can make good, Lis the critic's right.) The writer is authorized to reply, but not to complain. Neither can any one prescribe to the critic, how soft or how hard ; how friendly, or how bitter, shall be the phrases which he is to select for the expression of such reprehension or ridicule. The critic must know, what effect it is his object to produce ; and with a view to this effect must he weigh his words. But as soon as the critic betrays, that he knows more of his author than the author's publications could have told him; as soon as from this more intimate knowledge, else. where obtained, he avails himself of the slightest trait against the author; his censure instantly becomes personal injury, his sarcasms personal insults... He ceases to be a critic, and takes on him the most contemptible character to which a rational creature can be degraded, that of a gossip, backbiter, and pasquillant : but with this heavy aggravation, that he steals the unquiet, the deforming passions of the world into the museum; into the very place which, next to the chapel and oratory, should be our sanctuary, and secure place of refuge; offers abominations on the altar of the Muses; and makes its sacred paling the very circle in which he conjures up the lying and profane spirit.
This determination of unlicensed personality, and of permitted and legitimate censure (which I owe in part to the illustrious Lessing, 1 himself a model of acute, spirited, sometimes stinging, but always argumentative and honorable, criticism), is beyond controversy the true one: and though I would not myself exer. cise all the rights of the latter, yet, let but the former be excluded, 1 submit myself to its exercise in the hands of others, without complaint and without resentment.
Let a communication be formed between any number of learn. ed men in the various branches of science and literature ; and whether the president and central committee be in London or Edinburgh, if only they previously lay aside their individuality, and pledge themselves inwardly, as well as ostensibly, to ad. minister
judgment according to a constitution and code of laws.; and if by grounding this code on the two-fold basis of universal morals and philosophic reason, independent of all foreseen appli. cation to particular works and authors, they obtain the right to speak each as the representative of their body corporate ; they shall have honor and good wishes from me, and I shall accord to them their fair dignities, though self-assumed, not less cheerfully than if I could inquire concerning them in the herald's office, or
[See a few remarks on this subject in Lessing's Preface to his Essay on the manner in which the Ancients represented Death (Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet). Works, Leipzig, 1841, vol. v., pp., 273–4. Lessing also remonstrates against a certain sort of personality in criticism in the Advertisement prefixed to his Hamburgische Dramaturgie. Ib., vol. vii., pp. 3-6 S. C.]