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rather say, to drive en masse to the poll, I have no doubt that in five minutes you will prove to the company, and perhaps to himself, that he knows nothing at all about the matter. When he ventures to praise a painting or a poem, and you tell him “that the handling is deficient in firmness,” or that “there is a want of breadth in the rendering," he has not the faintest conception what you mean; and you have but to close the conversation with an expressive shrug to cover him with confusion. But, let me tell you, you do him a grievous injustice, if you think that artistic genius speaks to him in an unknown tongue, because he cannot comprehend your critical jargon; or because he cannot give a lecture upon the subject; or even because he is in that frame of mind which Sterne thought so adorable—"giving up the reins of his imagination into his author's hands, being pleased he knows not why, and cares not wherefore."
And you do a worse injustice—you do an injustice to art. For art would not be the great and glorious thing she is, if her utterances were intelligible only to a select few. It is because she speaks a language which all can in some degree understand; because the painter or the poet who seeks them aright, can find in the hearts of all—the king—the peasant-aye, the savage-chords which thrill to his touch-it is this which, among the powers that sway the human mind, has secured for art the high rank which we are all agreed to assign to it. Let me add ; if a time should ever come (and perhaps the danger is not wholly
imaginary,) when we shall refuse to recognize the universality of that language; if our criticism should deny the glorious name of Art to all that can touch the peasant or the child—if we lay down the rule that true poetry can be appreciated only by the scholar or the genius—then we shall be doing what in us lies, not to exalt art by this aristocratic exclusiveness, but to degrade it from the throne of a universal monarch, to the presidency of a limited, though of course a highly distinguished, coterie.
If such a time do come, there is one verdict which we shall certainly have to reverse. Let me ask of any one who thinks that poetry, if of a high order, should be what is vulgarly called “hard reading," what and whence are the two poems to which men have generally assigned the highest place ? From what kind of audience did they receive their earliest appreciation ? Was the perception of those poetic beauties, which we have all agreed to recognise, only to be attained by profound study, or by a subtle metaphysical analysis ? Were those excellencies at least wholly imperceptible to the multitude, till certain refined and exalted critics had, in their infinite condescension, pointed them out. I need not tell you that it was no such thing. You must seek the origin of the Homeric poems in a popular, national, minstrelsy; and they elicited their earliest applause, not from a court of subtle metaphysical critics, but from a somewhat promiscuous assembly of revellers, whom the nineteenth century would probably consider to be little better than savages.
Yet, no critic dares to reverse their sentence. It may, indeed, be said that they admired and applauded without well knowing why. That, I think, is very probable—nay, it involves the very distinction which I am anxious to draw. The approval, which the uneducated man bestows, is valuable, because it comes from his heart, not from his head. The tribute which a rude multitude paid to the genius of the ancient bard—a tribute, which legions of succeeding critics have vied with each other in justifying, deserves our highest respect, just because it was not criticism because it found expression, not in metaphysical analysis, but in the starting tear-in the kindling eye—in the burst of irrepressible enthusiasm. “They could not tell why they applauded.” No, indeed, they could not; but each man in that multitude could feel that the minstrel had touched his heart; and in the thrill which was awakened there, he could feel, too, that that minstrel was a poet.
And therefore, when we sit in judgment upon the poetry of Walter Scott, we have no right to forget the practical verdict which has been pronounced already. Still less have we a right to discredit that verdict, because a very large proportion of the jurors know little of the principles of criticism. If those poems have found their way to the humblest class if the simple lovers of nature have, in imagination, revelled in the glories of Loch Katrine-if boys have pored with rapture over the battle-scene in "Marmion,” their judgment is scarce less valuable, because “they admire without knowing why."
If the subject of my lecture to-day were a matter of strict science--if it were my duty to criticize (doubtless to your intense gratification) some treatise upon Electricity or the Differential Calculus, I should probably commence with certain strict definitions and principles, and then inquire how far the work under consideration was constructed in harmony with them. But when we travel outside the domain of exact science, this method would be very unsatisfactory. If I were to commence by laying down a definition of poetry, and then to proceed, by incontestable syllogisms, to prove that Walter Scott was a poet, the process would not be very agreeable to you, and would almost certainly fail to carry conviction with it. Art has, indeed, her truths, no less than science ; and whether “Marmion" or the “Lady of the Lake" be or be not genuine poetry, is, in one sense, a question of truth. But it is not a truth which you can force upon men's minds in the dry, hard, merciless way in which you do force upon them a truth of Mechanics or Geometry. If here, as elsewhere, “Truth comes as a conqueror," she does not come as a military conqueror, arrayed in a coat of mail-stern, unyielding, asking no sympathy, giving no quarter, bearing down all opposition by the force of a remorseless logic. Scientific truth cares little whether you receive her as a friend or an enemy. Confident in her own strength, she knows that in the end she must be victorious ; she cares not to attract-she will not stoop to conciliate.
But though you may compel a man to believe a
theorem, you cannot compel him to admire a poem ; and therefore, the method which is applicable to the researches of science becomes quite inapplicable here. Without, however, affecting rigid scientific accuracy, we may fairly ask- What are the features, some of which we expect to find in all true poetry? What are the powers which distinguish the poet from the ordinary man? And which of these features and powers appear in the poetry of Walter Scott ?
One of the principal of these—the principal power which is to be found in the poetry we are considering is, certainly, word-painting—the power of describing an object, a scene, or an event, so as to bring a picture before the mind's eye of the reader. Of the reality and distinctiveness of this power we are all conscious. We all feel that there are some descriptions which, as we read them, bring the object before us with almost the vividness of life ; while others, though perfectly faithful, and for purposes of information, equal or superior to the first, wholly fail to present to the mind any image of the thing described. Whence comes this—what account can we give of the power which the poet has, and the statistician has not, to place us in the presence of the objects which they respectively describe.
The answer to this question sounds somewhat paradoxical. The power of the poet is largely due to the incompleteness of his description. Were he to describe completely, and therefore minutely, the smallest object or event, the description might be an admirable piece of statistics, but would wholly fail as