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a picture. Whatever truth there may be in the PreRaphaelite theory of painting, a Pre-Raphaelite poem would be an impossibility. For it must be remembered that the poet cannot, like the painter, bring every part of his picture before the mind together. He must, of necessity, bring the several parts of his group before the mind successively, and the process by which all these parts are combined into a single picture must be always performed, more or less largely, by the imagination of the reader. The difficulty of the task which is thus left to the reader increases of course very rapidly with the complexity of the picture; and if that be very great, the task becomes impossible, and the description ceases to be a picture at all. If the same necessity were imposed upon the most determined Pre-Raphaelite—if he were obliged to present to the eye every flower, and leaf, and blade of grass, not at once but successively—I think that even he would find that his theory required modification. It seems, then, to be an unquestionable canon in poetical composition, that the elements of which each group in a poetical picture consists, must not be numerous. I shall have occasion to show that our poet is sometimes tempted to violate this canon.
But this restriction imposes upon the poet a new difficulty—the difficulty of selection. Even with the painter, this difficulty exists. To transfer to canvas all the lines and colours of nature is, as has been said by an eminent critic, impossible. If, then, of every hundred lines which exist in nature, your pic
ture will hold but one, how must the success of the picture depend upon the choice of that one ?
And this difficulty presses with tenfold force upon the poet. The number of elements of which his picture consists is small, not only as compared with nature, but as compared with the number which may exist in a painting; and therefore, while we can tolerate upon canvas many ill-chosen lines or colours, the presence of a few such elements would utterly mar the effect of word-painting. The small number of elements of which the poet can make use, must be so chosen, that the mind can quickly and without any great effort group them into a picture; all superfluous figures—everything which cannot be so groupedmust be rigorously excluded. The difference between word-painting and ordinary prosaic description appears to consist largely in this; that in the latter, the figures which are introduced are incapable of being so grouped, and therefore, how truthful soever the description be, no picture is present to the imagination of the reader.
You will better understand this distinction if I first tell you a story in prose, and then read it to you as it is told by Walter Scott. Here is the prose : “MY LORD,
“I have the honor to inform your lordship, that the disembarkation of the regiments forming the expeditionary force was effected this day between the hours of 10 a. m. and 2 35 p.m. Having communicated at an early hour this morning with Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Brown, K.C.B., commanding the convoy, and having received a favourable answer, I directed that the men should be paraded at 9 a. m. in heavy marching order. Two days' rations having been served out to each man, the several regiments took their places with much regularity in the launches appointed to receive them, which then pulled towards the landing-place. By the admirable arrangements of Assistant Quarter-Master-General Lieutenant Smithers, the baggage belonging to each regiment followed immediately behind the regiment itself, so that there might be no difficulty, should it be found necessary to bivouac for the night. The men were thus enabled to fall in at once upon landing, which greatly facilitated my further operations. On the whole, the disembarkation was successfully effected.
“I have the honor to be
&c., &c., “John Smith, Gen. Commanding."
Listen now to the same story told by the poet :“It was a dread, yet spirit-stirring sight
The billows foam'd beneath a thousand oars;
Legions on legions brightning all the shores.
Then peals the warlike thunder of the drum,
And patriot hopes awake, and doubts are dumb,
These two pieces of composition are so exceedingly different, that it may seem very ridiculous to compare them; yet they really exemplify the principle of which I have spoken. Try to construct a picture out of the elements given you in the despatch, and you will at once feel how your mind is perplexed by extraneous figures. You want to place yourself in imagination on the shores of Portugal, and thence to witness the landing of the British army; but you
don't want to know that General Smith obtained the consent of Admiral Brown; nor that the landing required exactly four hours and thirty-five minutes to effect it. It was only just that, in a despatch to the Commander-in-Chief, poor Smithers, who took care of the baggage, should receive his due meed of the praise, and I sincerely hope that he was promoted. But Smithers is not a poetical figure; and in the effort to construct a great historical picture we are simply teazed by him and his blankets.
See, on the other hand, how readily and naturally all the images which Walter Scott has drawn group themselves into a picture ; the sea whitening under the oars ; the bright uniforms and the brighter steel flashing in the sun; the martial music; the roar of the cannon; the kindling eye, the shout of welcome, which told that in the heart of an oppressed nation hope had dawned again. See all that, and then ask yourselves, was not the hand that drew that picture the hand of a true poet ?
Take another instance of the same power. Let any one who has ever witnessed a great fire, study the dozen lines which I am about to read to you, and I am sure that his memory will testify to the truth and the grandeur of the picture which is there drawn. The scene described is, as you will remember, the burning of Rokeby Castle :
“ In gloomy arch above them spread,
The clouded heaven lowered bloody red;
Then, one by one was heard to fall
Then sunk—and Rokeby was no more.” I have said that this picture will vividly recal to any one who has himself seen a great fire—that, perhaps, most terrible of all sights. Let me add, if any word-painting-aye, or canvas-painting—could bring such a scene fully before the mind's eye of one who has not seen it, this picture would be entirely successful. But neither poet nor painter can always do this. As in every other instance of man's socalled creative power, the artist cannot create, in the true sense of that word. He can combine the elements, which the imagination of his hearer already possesses, but he cannot give him new elements. It is not quite so easy to define an element in art as it is in chemistry; but every one will understand it who sees for the first time one of Nature's more sublime pictures, such as the Alps, a storm at sea, or a conflagration. From such a sight he receives, to use the common phrase, “a new idea." He feels that there is something there which no description has ever given him. Probably he feels, too, that there is something which no description could have given him; and therefore the real sublimity of the description which I have just read, can be fully appreciated only by one who has himself witnessed such a scene. But by