« AnteriorContinuar »
ON THE GENIUS AND WRITINGS OF
[New Monthly Magazine.]
How charming is divine Philosophy !
Blessings be on him and immortal praise,
Our readers will be disappointed if they expect to find in this article any of the usual flippancies of criticism. Were we accustomed to employ them, its subject would utterly confound us. Strange is their infatuation who can fancy that the merits of a great poet are subjected to their decision, and that they have any authority to pass judicial censures, or confer beneficent praises, on one of the divinest of intellects ! We shall attempt to set forth the peculiar immunities and triumphs of Wordsworth's genius, not as critics, but as disciples. To him our eulogy is nothing. But we would fain induce our readers to follow us “ where we have garnered up our hearts,” and would endeavour to remove those influences by which malignity and prejudice have striven to deter them from seeking some of the holiest of those living springs of delight which poets have opened for their species.
A minute discussion of Wordsworth's system will not be necessary to our design. It is manifestly absurd to refer to it as a test of his poetical genius. When an author has given
numerous creations to the world, he has furnished positive evidence of the nature and extent of his powers, which must preclude the necessity of deducing an opinion of them from the truth or falsehood of his theories. One noble imagination-one profound and affecting sentiment—or one new gleam cast on the inmost recesses of the soul, is more than a sufficient compensation for a thousand critical errors. False doctrines of taste can endure only for a little season, but the productions of genius are " for all time." Its discoveries cannot be lost-its images will not perish—its most delicate influences cannot be dissipated by the changes of times and of
It may be a curious and interesting question, whether a poet laboriously builds up his fame with purpose and judgment, or, as has most falsely been said of Shakspeare, “ grows immortal in his own despite ;" but it cannot affect his highest claims to the gratitude and admiration of the world. If Milton preferred Paradise Regained to Paradise Lost, does that strange mistake detract from our revering love? What would be our feeling towards critics, who should venture to allude to it as a proof that his works were unworthy of perusal, and decline an examination of those works themselves on the ground that his perverse taste sufficiently proved his want of genius? Yet this is the mode by which popular Reviewers have attempted to depreciate Wordsworth—they have argued from his theories to his poetry, instead of examining the poetry itself—as if their reasoning was better than the fact in question, or as if one eternal image set up in the stateliest region of poesy, had not value to outweigh all the truths of criticism, or to atone for all its errors ?"
Not only have Wordsworth's merits been improperly rested on his system, but that system itself has been misrepresented with no common baseness. From some of the attacks directed against it, a reader might infer that it recommended the choice of the meanest subjects, and their treatment in the meanest way; and that it not only represented poetry as fitly employed on things in themselves low and trivial, but that it forbad the clustering and delicate fancies about them, or the shedding on them any reconciling and softening lustre. Multitudes, indeed, have wondered as they read, not only that any persons should be deluded by its
perverse insipidities, but that critics should waste their ridicule on an author who resigned at once all pretensions to the poetic art. In reality, this calumniated system has only reference to the diction, and to the subjects of poetry. It has
erely taught, that the diction of poetry is not different from that of prose, and suggested that themes hitherto little dwelt on, were not unsuited to the bard's divinest uses. briefly examine what ground of offence there is in the assertion or application of these positions.
Some have supposed that by rejecting a diction as peculiar to poetry, Wordsworth denied to it those qualities which are its essence, and those“ harmonious numbers” which its thoughts“ voluntarily move.” Were his language equivocal, which it is not, the slightest glance at his works would show that he could have no design to exclude from it the stateliest imaginings, the most felicitious allusions, or the choicest and most varied music. He objected only to a peculiar phraseology—a certain hacknied strain of inversion, which had been set up as distinguishing poetry from prose, and which, he contended, was equally false in either. What is there of pernicious heresy in this, unless we make the crafty politician's doctrine, that speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts, the great principle of poetry? If words are fitly combined only to convey ideas to the mind, each word having a fixed meaning in itself, no different mode of collocation can be requisite when the noblest sentiment is to be embodied, from that which is proper when the dryest fact is to be asserted. Each term employed by a poet has as determinate an office-as clearly means one thing as distinguished from all others as a mathematician's scientific phrases. If a poet wishes lucidly to convey a grand picture to the mind, there can be no reason why he should resort to another mode of speech than that which he would employ in delivering the plainest narrative. He will, of course, use other and probably more beautiful words, because they properly belong to his subject; but he will not use any different order in their arrangement, because in both cases his immediate object is the same—the clear communication of his own idea to the mind of his reader. And this is true not only of the chief object of the passage, but of every hinted allusion, or nice shade of feeling, which may adorn it. If by “poetic diction” is in
tended the vivid expression of poetic thoughts, to annihilate it, is to annihilate poetry; but if it means certain ornamental phrases and forms of language not necessary to such expres sion, it is, at best, but a splendid error. Felicity of language can never be other than the distinct expression of felicitous thought. The only art of diction in poetry, as in prose, is the nice bodying forth of each delicate vibration of the feelings, and each soft shade of the images, in words which at once make us conscious of their most transient beauty. At all events, there was surely no offence in an individual's rejecting the aid of a style regarded as poetic, and relying for his fame on the naked majesty of his conceptions. The triumph is more signal when the Poet uses language as a mirror, clear, and itself invisible, to reflect his creations in their native hues,—than when he employs it as a stained and falJacious medium to exhibit its own varieties of tint, and to show the objects which it partially reveals in its own prismatic colouring.
But it is said that the subjects of Wordsworth's poetry are not in themselves so lofty as those which his noblest predecessors have chosen. If this be true, and he has yet succeeded in discovering within them poetical affinities, or in shedding on them a new consecration, he does not surely deserve ill of his species. He has left all our old objects of veneration uninjured, and has enabled us to recognise new ones in the peaceful and familiar courses of our being. The question is not whether there are more august themes than those which he has treated, but whether these last have any interest, as seen in the light which he has cast around them. If they have, the benefits which he has conferred on humanity are more signal, and the triumph of his own powers is more undivided and more pure, than if he had treated on subjects which we have been accustomed to revere. We are more indebted to one who opens to us a new and secluded pathway in the regions of fantasy with its own verdant inequalities and delicate overshadings of foliage, than if he had stepped majestically in the broad and beaten highway to swell the triumphant procession of laurelled bards. Is it matter of accusation that a poet has opened visions of glory about the ordinary walks of life—that he has linked holiest associations to things which hitherto have been regarded without emotion
that he has made beauty “ a simple product of the common day?" Shall he be denied the poetic faculty who without the attractions of story—without the blandishments of diction
- without even the aid of those associations which have encrusted themselves around the oldest themes of the poet, has for many years excited the animosities of the most popular critics, and mingled the love and admiration of his genius with the life-blood of hearts neither unreflecting nor ungentle?
But most of the subjects of Mr. Wordsworth, though not arrayed in any adventitious pomp, have a real and innate grandeur. True it is, that he moves not among the regalities, but among the humanities of his art. True it is, that his poetry does not “make its bed and procreant cradle" in the “ jutting, frieze, cornice, or architrave” of the glorious edifices of human power. The universe, in its naked majesty, and man in the plain dignity of his nature, are his favourite themes. And is there no might, no glory, no sanctity in these? Earth has her own venerablenesses-her awful forests, which have darkened her hills for ages with tremendous gloom; her mysterious springs pouring out everlasting waters from unsearchable recesses; her wrecks of elemental contests; her jagged rocks, monumental of an earlier world. The lowliest of her beauties has an antiquity beyond that of the pyramids. The evening breeze has the old sweetness which it shed over the fields of Canaan, when Isaac went out to meditate. The Nile swells with its rich waters towards the bul-rushes of Egypt, as when the infant Moses nestled among them, watched by the sisterly love of Miriam. Zion's hill has not passed away with its temple, nor lost its sanctity amidst the tumultuous changes around it, nor even by the accomplishment of that awful religion of types and symbols which once was enthroned on its steeps. The sun to which the poet turns his eye is the same which shone over Thermopylæ; and the wind to which he listens swept over Salamis, and scattered the armaments of Xerxes. Is a poet utterly deprived of fitting themes, to whom ocean, earth, and sky, are open—who has an eye for the most evanescent of nature's hues, and the most etherial of her graces - who can “live in the rainbow and play in the plighted clouds,” or send into our hearts the awful loneliness of re