Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

profit of the means without the least real desire to promote the end, or render the patient independent of their costly services; that they even hid the Gospel, lest men should see by its light how, under God, to heal themselves. He denounced the whole system not merely as liable to corruption, but as certainly, in the long run, involving it, being based on untruth and mere human policy. The cross of the Christian profession, in the Bible, is wrapped up in Christian duty strictly performed ; the Papist makes a separate thing of it, and thus converts it into an engine of superstition.

So wenig er auch bestimmt seyn mag, andere zu belehren, so wünscht er doch sich denen mitzutheilen, die er sich gleichgesinnt weiss (oder hofft), deren Anzahl aber in der Breite der Welt zerstreut ist; er wünscht sein Verhältniss zu den áltesten Freunden dadurch wieder anzuknüpfen, mit neuen es fortzusetzen, und in der letzen Generation sich wieder andere für seine übrige Lebenszeit zu gewinnen. Er wünscht der Jugend die Umwege zu ersparen, auf denen er sich selbst verirrte.

(Goethe. Einleitung in die Propyläen.)

TRANSLATION. Little call as he may have to instruct others, he wishes nevertheless to open out his heart to such as he either knows or hopes to be of like mind with himself, but who are widely scattered in the world : he wishes to knit anew his connexions with his oldest friends, to continue those recently formed, and to win other friends among the rising generation for the remaining course of his life. He wishes to spare the young those circuitous paths, on which he himself had lost his way.

[ocr errors]

BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA.

CHAPTER I.

Motives to the present work—Reception of the Author's first publication-

Discipline of his taste at school-Effect of contemporary writers on youthful minds—Bowles's Sonnets-Comparison between the poets before and since Pope.

It has been my lot to have had my name introduced both in conversation and in print more frequently than I find it easy to explain, whether I consider the fewness, unimportance, and limited circulation of my writings, or the retirement and distance, in which I have lived, both from the literary and political world. Most often has it been connected with some charge which I could not acknowledge, or some principle which I had never entertained. Nevertheless, had I had no other motive or incitement, the reader would not have been troubled with this exculpation. What

my additional purposes were, will be seen in the following pages. It will be found that the least of what I have written concerns myself personally. I have used the narration chiefly r for the purpose of giving a continuity to the work, in part for the sake of miscellaneous reflections suggested to me by particular events, but still more as introductory to a statement of my principles in Politics, Religion, and Philosophy, and an application of the rules, deduced from philosophical principles, to poetry and criticism. But of the objects which I proposed to myself, it was not the least important to effect, as far as possible, a settlement of the long continued controversy concerning the true nature of poetic diction ; and at the same time to define with the utmost

impartiality the real poetic character of the poet, by whose writings this controversy was first kindled, and has been since fuelled and fanned.”

In the spring of 1796, when I had but little passed the verge of manhood, I published a small volume of juvenile poems.' They were received with a degree of favor, which, young as I was, I well know was bestowed on them not so niuch for any positive merit, as because they were considered buds of hope, and promises of better works to come. The critics of that day, the most flattering, equally with the severest, concurred in objecting to them obscurity, a general turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new coined double epithets. The first is the fault

1 [The first volume of the Lyrical Ballads was published in the summer of 1798, by Mr. Joseph Cottle, of Bristol, who purchased the copyright for thirty guineas. That copyright was afterwards transferred with others to Messrs. Longman and Co. And it is related by Mr. Cottle, that in estimating the value, the Lyrical Ballads were reckoned as nothing by the head of that firm. This copyright was subsequently given back to Mr. Cottle, and by him restored to Mr. Wordsworth. Would that he and his might hold it for ever!

The second volume, with Mr. Wordsworth's Preface, appeared in 1800. Ed.]

2 [This volume was published by Mr. Cottle at Bristol in the Spring of 1796, in conjunction with the Messrs. Robinson in London. It contained fifty-one small pieces, of which the best known at the present day are the Religious Musings, Monody on Chatterton, Song of the Pixies, and the exquisite lines written at Clevedon, beginning, “ My pensive Sara, &c.” To this poem Mr. Coleridge many years afterwards added the magnificent passage

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

He was then twenty-three years and a half old. Ed.]

3 The authority of Milton and Shakspeare may be usefully pointed out to young authors. In the Comus and other early poems of Milton there is a superfluity of double epithets; while in the Paradise Lost we find very few, in the Paradise Regained scarce any. The same remark holds almost equally true of the Love's Labor Lost, Romeo and Juliet, Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, compared with the Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and

by an ease and simplicity, which I have studied, perhaps with inferior success, to impress on my later compositions.

At school (Christ's Hospital), I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe master, the Reverend James Bowyer.' He early moulded my taste to the preference of Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and again of Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me to compare Lucretius (in such extracts as I then read), Terence, and above all the chaster poems of Catullus, not only with the Roman poets of the, so called, silver and brazen ages; but with even those of the Augustan era : and on grounds of plain sense and universal logic to see and assert the superiority of the former in the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and diction. At the same time that we were studying the Greek tragic poets, he made us read Shakspeare and Milton as lessons : and they were the lessuns too, which required most time and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I learned from him, that poetry, even that of the loftiest, and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as severe as that of a science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more and more fugitive causes. In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word; and I well remember that, availing himself of the synonymes to the Homer of Didymus, he made us attempt to show, with regard to each, why it would not have answered the same purpose ; and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in the original text.

In our own English compositions (at least for the last three years of our school education), he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image, unsupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force and r dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre, Muse, Muses,

? [See the Table Talk, p. 185, 2d edit,, and Lamb's exquisite essay, Christ's Hospital five and thirty years ago. Prose Works, ii. p. 26. Ed.]

8 This is worthy of ranking as a maxim (regula maxima) of criticism. Whatever is translatable in other and simpler words of the same language, without loss of sense or dignity, is bad. N.B. By dignity I mean the absence of ludicrous and debasing associations.

« AnteriorContinuar »