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Edmund, -thy years were scarcely mine,
Rokeby, Canto VI. St. 20, 21. LETTER VI.
Hor. Carm. Lib. II. Od. 20.
You will recollect, Sir, that in a former letter, when speculating on the studies and pursuits with which the two writers appeared equally conversant, I offered reasons for believing that the author of Waverley was, by nature and practice, a poet. I propose now to compare him, in a few points of his poetical character, with the author of Marmion.
The short metrical pieces introduced in some of the novels are too scanty in substance, and too slightly characterized (though occasionally spirited and elegant), to furnish any important matter for comparison. Besides, if these ornamental stanzas could be traced to the very portfolio of the author of Marmion, we should still have proved too little, unless we could repel the natural and easy suggestion, that one writer probably composed the novels, and another contributed the poetry. Such illustrations, therefore, as I may find occasion to draw from these works, will be taken from their prose passages, which, in fact, comprise the fullest and richest vein of fancy and of feeling.
If required to distinguish the poetry of the author of Marmion from that of other writers by a single epithet, I should apply to it the term Popular. The same easy openness which was remarked in his prose style, is also a prevailing quality of his poetical composition, where, however, it appears not so much in verbal arrangement, as in the mode of developing and combining thoughts. Few authors are less subject to the fault of over-describing, or better know the point at which a reader's imagination should be left to its own activity; but the images which he does supply are placed directly in our view, under a full noon-day light. It is a frequent practice of other poets, instead of exhibiting their ideas in a detailed and expanded form, to involve them in a brilliant complication of phrase, high-wrought and pregnant with imagery, but supplying materials only, which the reader may shape out in his own mind according to his reach of fancy or subtlety of apprehension, and not presenting in itself any regular, fixed, or definite representation of objects. This style of composition is well exemplified in the ποντίων κυμάτων ανήριθμον γέλασμα of Æschylus *; the lines of Shakspeare,
creeping murmur, and the poring dark, Fills the wide vessel of the universe"
Chorus to Henry V. Act IV.
* Prometh. Vinct. 89, 90.
these of Milton,
“ The sounds and seas, with all their finny drove, Now to the moon in wavering morrice move
and where, describing the battle of the angels, he says, that the war'
.“ Soaring on main wing, Tormented all the air.”
Paradise Lost, B. VI.
In no instance that I recollect, does the author of Marmion adopt this kind of poetical phraseology, which conveys, in a few words, the germ and essence of a beautiful or sublime description, but is not itself that description. I do not insist upon the circumstance as a subject of either praise or censure; I only point to it as distinguishing the method of an individual writer from those of his brethren and predecessors.
Again, it is very common with poets of strong feeling and exuberant fancy, to describe (if that word may be applied to such a process) by accumulating round the principal object a number of images not physically connected with it, or with each other, but which, through the unfailing association of ideas, give, unitedly, the same impulse to the imagination and passions, as would
have been produced by a finished detail of strictly coherent circumstances. Such is the effect of that well-known passage in Macbeth, where murder is thus personified:
-wither'd murder, Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf, Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design Moves like a ghost."
Macbeth, Act II. Sc. I.
This method, also, appears unsuitable to the simplicity with which the author of Marmion is accustomed to unfold his poetical conceptions. In his mode of describing, the circumstances, however fanciful in themselves, still follow each other by natural consequence, and in an orderly series; and hang together, not by the intervention of unseen links, but by immediate and palpable conjunction. His epithets and phrases, replete as they often are with poetic force and meaning, have always a direct bearing upon the principal subject. He pursues his theme, in short, from point to point, with the steadiness and plainness of one who descants on a common matter of fact. The difference between his style of description, and the two kinds from which I have