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Every one knows the story of a certain Divine, who, on beginning the church service, found himself without a congregation ; and turning to his clerk Roger, addressed him with “Dearly beloved Roger,” &c. An Author, now-a-days, in prefacing a volume of Poetry, finds himself a little in the situation of the Divine : and the individual who composes his audience-the solitary Roger whom he can address-is his Publisher!
Nevertheless, my dear Publishers, I do not think it is quite o true, (however warmly, disappointed Poets, and your yet more disappointed brethren, may assert the fact,) that no poetry, whatsoever may be its nature, will attract the popular taste of the present age: still less, indeed, do I incline to the opinion of those indelicate and unfeeling critics, who assert, with no excusable incivility, that any poetry, if it be very good, will find an equally hearty welcome whatever be the time of its appearance. Glancing first towards the latter opinion, I think we shall observe that after the death of any pre-eminently popular poet, there is always a sudden, yet a long-continued coolness to the
art, which his admirers seem to imagine has expired with himself. Not only the new aspirant, but the poet of established celebrity, is mortified by indifference; and discovers that the broader fame which perhaps he thought overshadowed, on the contrary, protected his renown. Since the death of Lord Byron, the poetry of Moore, the friend of the deceased, or of Southey, the antagonist, has thus seemed to be less eagerly sought for than during the lifetime of that extraordinary man, when his genius or his faults were the theme of every literary conversation, and the claims of his cotemporaries were brought forward to illustrate, to lessen, or to contrast the merits of the popular idol. I apprehend that the same circumstances will apply to every more exciting species of literature; and had the world lost the Author of “ Waverley” at the time when the fullest splendour of his celebrity was calling forth a race of no unnoticed emulators, the whole tribe of historical, or even of Scottish novelists, would suddenly have sunk into that class of writers, to whose claims the Public would have lent the least courteous attention. A great literary man maintains in esteem the whole respectable part of his fraternity, and when he dies, they share the same fate as the friends of a savage Chief, whom his countrymen immolate upon his tomb.
If, my dear Publishers, we shall find, on an attentive recurrence to literary history, that this observation is not without truth in general, there was that in the particular instance of Lord Byron, which would heighten, perhaps beyond a precedent, the indifference towards the art which had lost so eminent a master. For it is superfluous to say, that no poet ever created
so feverish, and so unhealthy an interest in the popular mind; and that the subsequent languor and relaxation would necessarily be proportioned to the excitement they succeeded. The poetry itself, too, of Lord Byron is of a heated and exaggerated character; and ‘his genius so long taught the Public to consider stimulants as a legitimate diet, that while, on the one hand, no succeeding poet could surpass the excitation which he maintained, so, on the other hand, any simpler — I was about to say any more natural — school of poetry might reasonably be expected to appear common-place and insipid.
Again, too, while the Public, fascinated by the brilliancy of a bold and uncommon genius, grow wedded to his style---even to his faults—they resent with peculiar contempt any resemblance to the object of an admiration which they affect to preserve as an exclusive worship. And yet how few can escape from a seeming imitation, which in reality is nothing more than the tone of the age in which they live ; and though more emphatically noted in the most popular poet, than in his less fortunate cotemporaries, he also was influenced by, instead of creating. Thus it may be no paradox to say, that a new poet has of late incurred condemnation on two grounds, both of which he must have enjoyed a peculiar felicity to escape—one for being unlike Lord Byron, the other for being like him. Perhaps, without carrying the inquiry farther, we have already been enabled to see that there has been reason to believe the times of late somewhat singularly unfavourable to poetry; and that you, my dear Publishers, have been fully justified, by theory as well
as experience, for the very cold water you have thrown upon all proffered speculations in a branch of business so unprofitable.
Yet, on the other hand, is it wholly true that no poetry, whatever be its nature, will succeed? And, on the contrary, may we not hope that the disadvantages we have glanced at, and with which poetry has had to encounter, may have an apter reference to the period we have lately passed, than to that which we have entered ? It is perfectly clear, that at some time or another the indifference towards poetry, occasioned by the death or the absorbing genius of one great poet, must subside into that customary and natural coldness, with which the Public will always regard excursions into the higher and more arduous paths of literature. Why should this time be yet an object of distant anticipation ? Has not a sufficient period elapsed since the passing away of a great man, to allow the feelings he bequeathed to fade also from that undue influence which they might at first have exercised over the popular mind ? Has not a new generation arisen ? Has not a new impetus been given to the age? Do not new feelings require to be expressed ? and are there not new readers to be propitiated, who, sharing, but in a feeble degree, the former enthusiasm, will turn, nor with languid attention, to the claims of fresh aspirants ? Is there not truth in this ? and if so, is not the time approaching, if it be not already arrived, when a poet may expect no obstacle and no contention, beyond those eternally doomed to his condition ? But then what have we said ?_" that a new race have arisen, and new feelings are to be expressed.” A poet, there
fore, who aspires to reputation must be adapted to the coming age, not rooted to that which is already gliding away.
The critics err, when they say that any poetry that is very w good will succeed ; poetry excellent—nay, surprising, is called forth every hour-yet dies instantly into silence. But then it is poetry which echoes a sound of which we are tired :---to succeed with a new age, it should be of a new character. Hence it is, my dear Publishers, that duodecimos in stanzas and octavos in heroics, slumber on your shelves—a warning to you, an omen to us. Hence it is, that so much genius seems utterly thrown away; that so many excellent verses are written, which no one reads; and so many pretty feelings are expressed, with which no one can sympathize. We all grant the talent and the power ; but they are wasted in delineating worn-out sentiments, and embodying reflections upon which, in the rapid career of the world, we have already decided. All that morbidity of feeling - all that gloomy repining at the ends of life--all that affectation to be above the aims, and detached from the interests of our fellow-creatures : all such unwholesome sentimentalities and tumid weaknesses, characteristic of a departing age, do not distinguish the rising : many among the elder part of the literary world, may indeed still consider them the components of a deep philosophy, or the signs of a superior mind. But the young have, I am persuaded, formed a nobler estimate of life, and a habit of reasoning, at once founded upon a homelier sense, and yet aspiring to more elevated conclusions.
What feelings may have succeeded the artificial sentiments which have withered, and which poets daily rise to address, and