« AnteriorContinuar »
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended ;
And fade into the light of common day.”. These “ shadowy recollections," then, “ are the master-light of all our seeing ;” they “ cherish us—and have power to make
“ Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence.” And then for the retrospect which a meditative and imaginative mind can exercise :
“ Hence in a season of calm weather,
Though inland far we be,
Which brought us hither;
Can in a moment travel thither,-
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.” I am conscious that I have already quoted more than my limits will properly allow; and yet I know not how I can omit showing my favourite in one more, and that probably the most affecting point of view. The following lines are from the poem on “ Revisiting the Wye,” which let no one presume to read without also thinking. They are owvãUTA OUVETOLOL és dê To náv épurvé we .XQTIGEL.
« Nor less, I trust,
How often has my spirit turned to thee !" Before I conclude I must take notice of one specious and very common objection to any assertion of the merits of Wordsworth.
If it is said, “Wordsworth be so great a poet as you would bave us believe him to be, why is he not more popular?"... I
will also ask a question. What is the meaning of the word popular? Is it to be the first and eternal requisition at the circulating library? Is it to be bepraised in the reviews ? Is it to be copied in the newspapers? Is it to be the pillow and dear favourite of boarding-school misses, or even (salvo pudore dixerim) of desperate harlots? If this be to be popular,—and I declare conscientiously I believe it to be the essence of modern popularity,—then the most frantic and impure novels of Lady Morgan or Godwin, then Brutus and the Italians,* then Little's Poems, then Hone's ingenious squibs, then Don Juan, are unquestionably the most popular works of the present day! For who or what shall compete with them? It is frightful to know the tremendous and exclusive empire which these, and works like these, hold over the variously intermingled classes of England. They are popular—and verily, verily, they have their reward.
But I entirely and absolutely deny the validity of the criterion that popularity is the test of merit ! It is not so now; it never was in England or any other country. If it had been, then would neither Æschylus, nor Sophocles, nor Euripides, nor Aristophanes, be the first of ancient tragedians and comedians; for they were repeatedly beaten in a contest with rivals, whose works are now as if they had never been, and whose names are only preserved by the grammarians! The 6 Creation” of Dubartes drove Spenser's “ Faery Queen" out of the field,—and yet now who knows of that victorious work or author any thing but that they were? The fate of the “ Paradise Lost,” on its first appearance, is notorious. + To this day Shakspeare, though confessedly the idol of England, is but blindly worshipped by most men; and G. Steevens talks of an Act of Parliament not being strong enough to compel the perusal of his sonnets and smaller poems! But I will come down closer to present times. I will say nothing of smaller fry. I ask if even Lord Byron, the image before which all have fallen down and worshipped-if even Lord Byron be as popular now as he
* I mention Brutus and the Italians, though the first of these did certainly receive a pretty decent chastising in the Quarterly Review,-but all London thronged to them before they were in print, and for a whole season the popular taste “battened on this or these moors," when it might have commanded the exquisite works of Shakspeare or Massinger. The Reviewer ends his remarks on Brutus thus :-“It is enough to say conscientiously, that we cannot find in the whole play a single character finely conceived, or rightly sustained, a single incident well managed, a single speech, nay a single sentence of good poetry.” The play is miraculously stupid, and was nearly as miraculously popular.
+ Waller, the popular poet of his day, takes notice of the publication of the “ Paradise Lost” in these words to a correspondent :-“ John Milton, the old blind schoolmaster, has just published a Poem in blank verse on the Fall of Man --remarkable for nothing but its extreme length.” And that was the flash criticism of the times. Yet Edmund Waller was sometimes a real Poet himself, and certainly better qualified to pronounce an opinion than some of the dispensers of praise or blame of modern days.
was when he had just published the “ Corsair ?” No one who knows any thing of the prevailing feelings of what is called the world will venture to answer in the affirmative.
So then it appears that immediate popularity is not that infal
“ Quem ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum;" since it is manifest that many of the most glorious efforts of the human intellect were neglected or laughed at on their first ushering into life; that it hath required the intervention of ages to show them in their native and genuine splendor; and that, on the contrary, whole 'shoals of mushroom follies have been fondled, Caressed, and adored for a season, but are now lost in irretrievable oblivion. These are facts which should make us think ;-we should learn to hesitate in giving either sweeping praise or blame; we should remember that our age differs in no essential point of human sympathy from those which judged so wrongly before us; and we may sometimes consider whether, when we applaud, we are not conspiring with those who pander to our passions; and when we neglect and abuse, we are not shunning a light, which we may not be pure enough to comprehend. In this frame of mind we might learn to doubt the correctness of the prevailing taste, and to take notice of that diseased appetite which can require and relish such extravagant stimulants as are now universally manufactured for it. I do not speak thus simply from theory ;-İ can myself bear witness at once to the violence and the unreasonableness of this passion. I remember distinctly, when Lalla Rookh first came out, I read it through at one sitting ;-to say I was delighted with it is a poor word for my feelings;-I was transported out of myself—entranced, or what you will : the men did not appear to me half fierce and beautiful enough, and the women had nothing in their eyes at all like those of the gazelle ;—not to mention that the flowers were very meagre, and the wind cold, and the chapel organ out of tune, and the “ blessed Sun himself” but a poor substitute for the God of the Guebres. This seems extravagant, and yet I believe that many a young heart has felt nearly the same, if those feelings were uttered. Well-after a few days it occurred to me as something very odd that I had no patience now with old Homer or Virgil, or even Milton, and scarcely with Shakspeare ;—they were not transporting enough! This made me reflect upon the causes which could work such a revolution in me; for I used to think the aforesaid poets the very first in their lines, and lo! now a greater than they had swept them out of my favoúr! After the cooling interval of three weeks I sat down to read this book again—but oh! “ quantum mutatus ab illo Hectore !” I cannot describe my feelings, but suffice it to say, the
d this saand know only paich are
potent charm had vanished; but still I was bewitched in a minor degree by the glare and dazzle of the scenery, and the music of the versification. Will you believe me, that a whole year afterwards I read this same book a third time; and then I felt and knew, as all will feel and know, who will take the trouble of making the experiment, that the only parts of the work that are worth a farthing, are precisely those which are the simplest, the most plain, and free from the beauties of the Author, and which on that very account, I, on my first acquaintance with him, disliked or neglected. I allude to such lines as those beginning with i
“"I mean not, Azim,' soothingly she said,” &c. This train of thought might, and, for the full development of the argument against the imperious domination of fashion in judging of works of the imagination, ought to be pursued much farther, and the deductions from it would be direct and conclusive in favour of at least a fair and patient examination of Wordsworth ; but I perceive that my eagerness has already caused me to trespass too long upon the attention of the generality of readers.. ;
Here then I stop ;-those who are well acquainted with the subject of these Letters will feel how inadequately I have pleaded his cause ; but to those who may first hear of him, or at least to any purpose, in these pages, I earnestly trust I may be of some trifling benefit. I finished my last letter with a quotation in prose, -I will finish this with one in poetry, and the Poet shall be Wordsworth himself. I address these lines to every uncorrupted heart amongst us, and to them only :
“ If thou be one whose heart the holy forms
Of young Imagination have kept pure,
ON A CERTAIN AGE.
“ Tempora certa."--Hor.
WE happened the other day to be present at a small party, where, being almost entire strangers ourselves, we had little to do but to listen to and reflect upon what was said by others. While we were engaged in this occupation, we heard one expression repeated several times, which made a strong impression upon us, and induced us to draw up the following treatise.
We first heard some gentlemen observing that it was quite proper for Mrs. — to withdraw from the stage in time, for that she was now of a “ certain age.” Immediately afterwards we heard it remarked by Mrs. Racket, that it was lucky for Maria the Nabob had proposed in time, for the lady must be of a “ certain age.” Now, as the former of these objects had seen fifty winters, of which the latter fell short by at least twenty, it was natural for us to exert ourselves to discover what this 6 certain age” might be, the limits of which were so extensive. We accordingly commenced an investigation into the subject with great alacrity, and carried it on for some time with great perseverance. We regret to add that our success has not been proportionate to our exertions; and that, by the most indefatigable research, we can only ascertain that nothing in life is involved in such uncertainty as this “ certain
Our first hope was, that by inquiries from some lady of our acquaintance, who had the fortune, or the misfortune, to come under this definition, we might be able to ascertain the precise boundaries of the period. But here we met with a difficulty, as it were on the threshold of our project. Out of all the young beauties.of whom we made inquiries ; out of all the fashionable belles in high life, and the vulgar belles in low life, and the languishing belles, who have no life at all, we could find no one to return a satisfactory answer to this mysterious, unanswerable, insupportable question, “ Are you of a certain age?” One laughed naturally, and another laughed artificially ; one looked amazed, and another looked chagrined; one “ left it to us to decide,” another left the room; one professed utter ignorance, and another tapped us with her fan, and wondered how we could have the impertinence. But plain “ Yes” or “No” was not forthcoming. The ladies had not studied our Second Number, or they would doubtless have learnt from Messrs. Lozell and Oakley the absolute necessity of these little monosyllables. But to proceed. Finding this method ineffectual, we changed