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Hugg'd and embraced by the strumpet wind!
to the imitation in the bard :
“ Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
(In which, by-the-by, the words “realm” and “sway" are rhymes dearly purchased.) I preferred the original, on the ground that in the imitation it depended wholly in the compositor's putting, or not putting, a small capital, both in this and in many other passages of the same poet, whether the words should be personifications, or mere abstracts. I mention this because, in referring various lines in Gray to their original in Shakspeare and Milton, and in the clear perception how completely all the propriety was lost in the transfer; I was, at that early period, led to a conjecture which, many years afterwards, was recalled to me from the same thought having been started in conversation, but far more ably, and developed more fully, by Mr, WORDSWORTH; namely, that this style of poetry, which I have characterised above, as translations of prose thoughts into poetic language, had been kept up by, if it did not wholly arise from, the custom of writing Latin verses, and the great importance attached to these exercises in our public schools. Whatever might have been the case in the fifteenth century, when the use of the Latin tongue was so general among learned men that Erasmus is said to have forgotten his native language ; yet, in the present day, it is not to be supposed that a youth can think in Latin, or that he can have any other reliance on the force or fitness of his phrases, but the authority of the author from whence he has adopted them. Consequently, he must first prepare his thoughts, and then pick out, from Virgil, Horace, Ovid, or perhaps more compendiously from his Gradus,* halves and quarters of lines in which to embody them.
* In the Nutricia of Politian, there occurs this line:
“Pura coloratos interstrepit unda lapillos.” Casting my eye on a University prize poem, I met this line :
“Lactea purpureos interstrepit unda lapillos.”
I never object to a certain degree of disputatiousness in a young man from the age of seventeen to that of four or five-and-twenty, provided I find him always arguing on one side of the question. The controversies occasioned by my unfeigned zeal for the honor of a favorite contemporary, then known to me only by his works, were of great advantage in the formation and establishment of my taste and critical opinions. In my defence of the lines running into each other, instead of closing at each couplet ; and of natural language, neither bookish por vulgar, neither redolent of the lamp or of the kennel, such as I will remember thee ; instead of the same thought, tricked up in the rag-fair finery of
- Thy image on her wing Before my FANCY's eye shall MEMORY bring,
I had continually to adduce the metre and diction of the Greek poets, from Homer to Theocritus, inclusive; and still more of our elder English poets, from Chaucer to Milton. Nor was this all. But as it was my constant reply to authorities brought against me from later poets of great name, that no authority could avail in opposition to Truth, Nature, Logic, and the Laws of UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR; actuated, too, by my former passion for metaphysical investigations, I labored at a solid foundation on which, permanently, to ground my opinions in the component faculties of the human mind itself, and their comparative dignity and importance. According to the faculty, or source, from which the pleasure given by any poem or passage was derived, I estimated the merit of such poem or passage. As the result of all my reading and meditation, I abstracted two critical aphorisms, deeming them to comprise the conditions and criteria of poetic style ; first, that not the poem which we have read, but that to which we return, with the greatest pleasure, possesses the genuine power, and claims the name of essential poetry. Second, that whatever lines can be translated into other words of the same language, without diminution of their significance, either in sense or association, or in any worthy feeling, are so far vicious in their diction. Be it, however, observed, that I excluded from the list of worthy feelings, the pleasure derived
Now look, out in the Gradus for Purus, and you find, as the first synonyme, lacteus ; for coloratus, and the first synonyme is purpureus. I mention this by way of elucidating one of the most ordinary processes in the ferrumination of these centos.
from mere novelty, in the reader, and the desire of exciting wonderment at his powers in the author. Oftentimes since then, in perusing French tragedies, I have fancied two marks of admiration at the end of each line, as hyeroglyphics of the author's own admiration at his own cleverness. Our genuine admiration of a great poet is a continuous under-current of feeling; it is every where present, but seldom any where as a separate excitement. I was wont boldly to affirm, that it would be scarcely more difficult to push a stone out from the pyramids with the bare hand, than to alter a word, or the position of a word, in Milton or Shakspeare, in their most important works at least,) without making the author say something else, or something worse than he does say. One great distinction I appeared to myself to see plainly, between even the characteristic faults of our elder poets, and the false beauty of the moderns. In the former, from DONNE to Cowley, we find the most fantastic out-of-the-way thoughts, but in the nost pure and genuine mother English; in the latter, the most obvious thoughts in language the most fantastic and arbitrary. Our faulty elder poets sacrificed the passion, and passionate flow of poetry, to the subtleties of intellect, and to the starts of wit ; the moderns to the glare ätid glitter of a perpetual; yet broken and heterogeneous imagery; or rather to an amphibious something, made up half of image, and half of abstract * meaning. The one sacrificed the heart to the head, the other both heart and head to point and drapery.
The reader must make himself acquainted with the general style of composition that was at that time deemed poetry, in order to understand and account for the effect produced on me by the SonŅETS, the MONODY at MATLOCK, and the Hope, of Mr. Bowles; for it is peculiar to original genius to become less and less striking, in proportion to its success in improving the taste and judgment of its contemporaries. The poems of West, indeed, had the merit of chaste and manly diction, but they were cold, and, if I may so express it, only dead-colored; while in the best of Warton's, there is a stiffness, which too often gives them the appearance of imitàtions from the Greek. Whatever relation, therefore, of cause or impulse, Percy's collection of Ballads may bear to the most popular
* I remember a ludicrous instance in the poem of a young tradesman :
“No more will I endure love's pleasing pain,
poems of the present day; yet, in the more sustained and elevated style of the then living poets, Bowles and Cowper * were, to the best of my knowledge, the first who combined natural thoughts with natural diction; the first who reconciled the heart with the head.
It is true, as I have before mentioned, that from diffidence in my own powers, I for a short time adopted a laborious and florid diction, which I myself deemed, if not absolutely vicious, yet of very inferior worth. Gradually, however, my practice conformed to my better judgment; and the compositions of my twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth years, (ex. gr. the shorter blank verse poems, the lines which are now adopted in the introductory part of the Vision, in the présent collection in Mr. Southey's Joan of Arc, 2d book, 1st edition, and the Tragedy of REMORSE,) are not more below my present ideal in respect of the general tissue of the style, than those of the latest date. Their faults were, at least, a remnant of the former leaven, and among the many who have done me the honor of putting my poems in the same class with those of my betters, the one or two who have pretended to bring examples of affected simplicity from my volume, have been able to adduce but one instance, and that out of a copy of verses half ludicrous, half splenetic; which I intended, and had myself characterized, as sermoni propriora.
Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an excess, that itself will need reforming. The reader will excuse me for noticing, that I myself was the first to expose risu honesto the three sins of poetry, one or the other of which is the most likely to beset a young writer. So long ago as the publication of the second number of the monthly magazine, under the name of NEHEMIAH HIGGENBOTTOM, I contributed three sonnets, the first of which had for its object to excite a good-natured laugh, at the spirit of doleful egotism, and at the recurrence of favorite phrases, with the double defect of being at once trite and licentious.
* Cowper's Task was published some time before the sonnets of Mr. Bowles, but I was not familiar with it till many years afterwards. The vein of satire which runs through that excellent poem, together with the sombre hue of its religious opinions, would probably, at that time, have prevented its laying any strong hold on my affections. The love of nature seems to have led Thomson to a cheerful religion; and a gloomy religion to have led Cowper to a love of nature. The one would carry his fellow-men along with him into nature; the other flies to nature from his fellow-men. In chastity of diction, however, and the harmony of blank verse, Cowper leaves Thomson unmeastırably below him; yet still I feel the latter to have been the born poet.
The second, on low, creeping language and thoughts, under the pretence of simplicity. And the third, the phrases of which were borrowed entirely from my own poems, on the indiscriminate use of elaborate and swelling language and imagery. The reader will find them in the note * below, and will, I trust, regard them as reprinted for biographical purposes, and not for their poetic merits. So general at that time, and so decided was the opinion concerning the characteristic vices of my style, that a celebrated physician, (now, alas! no more,) speaking of me, in other respects, with his usual kindness, to a gentleman who was about to meet me at a dinner party, could not, however, resist giving him a hint not to mention the “ House that Jack built” in my presence, for “ that I was as sore as a bile about that sonnet;" he not knowing that I was, myself, the author of it.
* Sonnet 1.
Pensive at eve, on the hard world I mused,
Oh I do love thee, meek SIMPLICITY!