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The changes which have taken place in the public taste as it respects Poetry during the last thirty years have been manifold and extraordinary. About the close of the eighteenth century, the only poems which were honoured with any marked share of popular favour, were of a DIDACTIC order; and although Cowper and Burns had already made their appearance above the literary horizon, the latter was comparatively unappreciated, and the former chiefly known by the least valuable and important portion of his writings. Of our more modern poets, Rogers and Campbell alone excited any particular attention. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey had published many of their most beautiful lyrical compositions, but as yet they had attracted little notice; and even those noble ballads of Campbell, on which his strongest claims to immortality will be found ulti tely to rest, sank into insignificance before his longer and more elaborate poem. From this epoch until the publication of the poetical romances of Sir Walter Scott, there was a complete interregnum in the Parnassian Dynasty: the
“Lay of the Last Minstrel,” “Marmion,” and the “Lady of the Lake,” produced, however, a total revolution in the popular taste; their author was elevated by almost unanimous consent to the vacant chair; the fashion for DIDACTIC POETRY declined; and narRATIVE, or rather DESCRIPTIVE POETRY became at once the order of the day. Such indeed was the brilliancy which attended the rising of this new luminary, that the light of numerous contemporary stars was entirely obscured by its brightness.
The publication of Childe Harold created another and most remarkable mutation in the fashion of the day. Epic, didactic, and descriptive poems alike ceased to be regarded; and an appetite was almost immediately created for personal POETRY, which had not merely a prospective, but equally a retrospective operation. Narrative poetry had now no longer any chance of success, unless the reflections and sentiments of the author were impersonated in his hero. A prejudice in favour of old habits of thought and criticisms, however, led most of the reviewers of the day, to condemn, in Childe Harold, the very egotism which has since become the staple commodity of modern poetry. The Giaour, the Corsair, Lara, and a large proportion of Lord Byron's subsequent writings, abound all of them with those impassioned bursts of natural feeling – those forceful traits of individual character—which could only have been drawn from the recesses of his own bosom; and which derive a tenfold interest from such an inference.
Nothing can be more erroneous than the supposition that the public is not interested in the private feelings and aspirations of a poet. It is the
peculiar attribute of genius to create in the minds of its readers a degree of sympathy with its lot, which gives a value and interest to every revelation with which it may deign to indulge the world ; although the quantum of sympathy and excitement thus produced, must of course depend, for the most part, upon the poet's power of developing his sentiments in impassioned and energetic language. That such a power was possessed by Lord Byron, to an extent for which we should in vain seek for a parallel in any other writer, can scarcely be denied ; and to this may in a great measure be ascribed the inextinguishable energy of his poetry, and the sudden and universal applause it has commanded. Impersonations of the more stormy attributes of our nature, — records of the hopes, the fears, the passions, and the pains of an exalted but erratic genius,-must always lay firmer hold on the sympathy of that order of readers, which it is most a poet's object to conciliate, than any imaginative description of feelings and incidents that have no echo in the heart,-no foundation in the history of the writer. It has been frequently remarked, that there scarcely exists the person whose autobiography, if fairly and candidly set forth, with all the springs and motives of his actions clearly and unshrinkingly displayed, would not be of interest, and even of service, to the public ; and if the correctness of this apot gm be universally recognised, how much more forcibly will it apply to the history of the poet ; and how doubly interesting and valuable must be the secret outpourings of his heart— the impassioned narrative of its joys, its
sorrows, and disappointments,--as conveyed in those lyrical ebullitions of feeling, which may not unaptly be pronounced the escape-valves of the poetical temperament; and by which the safety of the machine can sometimes alone be ensured. It is this class of poetry which is not only the best calculated to interest the reader, from the echoes which refined sentiments, whether of pleasure or of pain, must continually produce in his own heart, but the best adapted to display the genius of the writer. It is to compositions of this order that we may invariably refer for the more successful productions of the poet. He who is skilful in delineating the feelings of an ideal hero, must prove much more energetic when, roused and excited by the impulses of his own mind, he identifies his personal history with his writings. What, for example, constitutes the overwhelming interest of Childe Harold ?—the fact, of which such abundant internal evidence is to be found throughout the poem, that it is in a great measure the personal history of the poet. And which are the passages most frequently remembered and referred to? Unquestionably those in which he lays aside the pilgrim-vest, and appears before the reader in his own person ; making him the confidant of the ever-shifting impulses of his soul,the depository of its gladness and its grief. Who is there who would not exchange the most splendid imaginative descriptions, for such intense and impassioned revealings?
Are there not also passages in the introductions to Marmion of more interest to the reader than the more splendid ideal descriptions in the poem itself? Which are the most universally popular of the writings of Wordsworth, Southey, Campbell, and Coleridge ? Unquestionably such poems as have been produced under the influence of some powerful emotion; which have not been prolonged beyond the existence of the feeling that inspired them ; which are more or less identified with the personal histories of the poets, and which consequently reflect back the feelings and aspirations of a large proportion of their readers. It is for this reason that Lord Byron's exquisite apostrophes to Thyrza, and the melodious murmurs of a grief almost titanic in its character, which are every where scattered over his continuous poems, afford the noblest evidences of his genius. It is for this reason also that the Tintern Abbey of Wordsworth—the Retrospection of Southey — the exquisite Genevieve of Coleridge—the too prophetic lines written in a moment of dejection at Naples, of Shelley—the beautiful Address to a Sleeping Child of Wilson — the lyrical burst, “ Let me not have this gloomy view,” in the Tales of the Hall, of Crabbe—with numerous other poems of a similar character by the same authors,-are superior to their longer and more elaborate compositions.
For several years past the Poetical Literature of the country has consisted almost entirely of short lyrical pieces; and unless a very strong diversion be created in the current of public taste, there is little reason to suppose that the experiment of a poem of length, whether purely epic—of the class of poetical romanceor of a descriptive character,—would now be attended with success. In the interim, therefore, it is hoped