« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
It is unfortunate that Coleridge has not condensed his criticism into any distinct system, or wrought it out into any series of critical papers. Hence we have only fragments, such as are scattered through his “Friend" and " Biographia Literaria," or found in his “ Table Talk." From these, however, it is very easy to see the leading principles on which all his criticism proceeds. His two great principles were, first, the difference between the Imagination and the Fancy; and, secondly, the necessity of an organic unity to all the higher works of art. The first of these, although not, we think, just, led him to the strong distinction he perpetually draws between the soi-disant poetry of Pope, Addison, and Darwin; and that of Shakspeare, Milton, and the rest of our great poets. His inculcation of organic unity in works of genius is unquestionably pushed too far—so far, indeed, that on his principles there are only one or two poems, however many poets there may be, in the world. But it has done good, notwithstanding, in curbing that tendency to fragmentary and fugitive effort which has beset so many poets, and in opening their eyes to what is certainly the most difficult peak in the poetic art. Coleridge, too, has strongly insisted upon poets studying philosophy as the basis of their song-seeking to construct their verse and language upon scientific principles, and consecrating their gift to the Great Giver. Were poets acting on his advice, we should have every one of them ready to “ give a reason" for the inspiration that was in him; and what is much better, all singing harmoniously with the harps of angels around the manger at Bethlehem and the empty grave of the Risen Redeemer. He has also attempted to distinguish the differentia of genius—finding the meaning of it in the name—which so closely connects it with the genial nature and the spontaneous powers—a distinction which De Quincey has recently borrowed, and illustrated with his usual felicity.
What a book the "Collected Criticisms of S. T. (alas not St. !) Coleridge” might have been, had he written a hundred papers like that he wrote about Sir T. Browne, on the blank leaf of one of his volumes! But a completed Coleridge had been too noble a product for us as yet—« a thing to dream of, not to see," It is a curious question—" Are such tantalising fragments finished in another world ?" If so, how interesting
the spectacle of a mild-tempered Milton—a humble and bending Byron—a Shelley on his knees--a Goethe warmed into a seraph, and “summering high in bliss upon the hills of God" —a many-sided Southey — a wide-minded Wordsworth—a believing Godwin-a healthy and happy Keats—a holy Burns -a Poe "clothed and in his right mind"-a Coleridge with the crevices in his nature filled up, and his self-control made equal to his transcendent genius! Whether the future world may show us such rounded harmonies as our words have thus described we cannot tell; but certainly it is very pleasant to conceive of them as possible, and to form idealisms of the future of men, who, on this earth compassed about with infirmities, and even betrayed into deep and fatal errors, have yet forced their irresistible way into the admiration of our intellects, and the pity or love of our hearts.
(This paper appeared in August, 1851.) The name, or rather the mark of A, is a magic mark throughout the entire kingdom of British literature. The gentleman who chooses thus to subscribe himself is favorably known as a poet, as a writer on medical literature, as the author of a very successful Scotch novel, yclept "Mansie Wauch,” as one of the principal contributors and conductors of “Blackwood's Magazine, and as a most amiable and accomplished private person. Nor are we sure, if, all things considered, any man, whether in England or Scotland, could have been singled out, who was likely to manage the difficult and complicated subject of these lectures in a safer, a more candid, and less exceptionable style, than Dr. Moir—especially before an audience so constituted, that one-half came probably with the notion (however ludicrous this presumption may seem to all others) that
* Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century, delivered before the Edinburgh Philosophical Association, by DELTA.
any one of themselves might have treated the subject better than he!
But, apart altogether from the composition of his audience -peculiar and unique, we believe, in the world—Delta has nobly effected his purpose. That was to express honestly and in simple language, without shrinking, and without show, his own views and feelings as to our last half-century's poetical literature. And it is fortunate for us, and all his readers, that these are the views of no narrow sectarian, or soured bigot, or self-conceited and solemn twaddler—but of an enlightened, wide-minded, and warm-hearted man, whose very errors and mistakes are worthy of respectful treatment, and all of whose opinions are uttered from the sincerity of an honest heart, and in the eloquent and dignified language of a poet.
Had we a thousand pens, each should run on, like that of a "ready writer," in the praise of poetry. Assuredly, among the many sweets which God has infused into the cup of being among the many solaces of this life, the many relics of the primeval past, the many foretastes of the glorious future, there are few more delicious than the influences of poetry. It transports us from the dust and discord of the present troubled sphere into its own fair world. It “lays us," as Hazlitt beautifully says, “in the lap of a lovelier paturc, by stiller streams, and fairer meadows;" it invigorates the intellect by the elevated truth which is its substance; it enriches the imagination by the beauty of its pictures; it enlarges the mental view by the width and grandeur of its references; it inflames the affections by the “ touch ethereal of its fiery rod;" it purifies the morals by the powers of pity and terror; and, when concentrated and hallowed, it becomes the most beautiful handmaid in the train of faith, and may be seen with graceful attitude sprinkling the waters of Castalia on the roses in the garden of God. The pleasures which poetry gives are as pure as they are exquisite. Like the manna of old, they seem to descend from a loftier climatenot of the earth, earthy, but of celestial birth, they point back to heaven as their future and final home. They bear every reflection, and they awaken no re-action. A night with the Muses never produces a morning with the Fiends. The world
into which poetry introduces is always the same. The “Sun of Homer shines upon us still.” The meadows of genius are for ever fresh and green. The skies of imagination continually smile. The actual world changes—the ideal is always one and the same-Achilles is always strong-Helen is always fair-Mount Ida continually cleaves the clouds-Scamander rushes ever by—the Eve of Milton still stands ankle deep in the flowers of her garden—and the horn of Fitzjames winds in the gorge of the Trosachs for evermore. And when we remember that above the storms and surges of this tempestuous world there rises in the pages of the poet a fairy realm, which he who reads may reach, and straightway forget his sorrow, and remember his poverty no more, we see the debt of gratitude we owe to poetry, and, looking at the perennial peace and loveliness which surround her wherever she goes, we feel entitled to apply to her the beautiful lines originally addressed to the bird of spring
Love-pure, refined, insatiable affection—for the beautiful forms of this material universe, for the beautiful affections of the human soul, for the beautiful passages of the history of the past, for the beautiful prospects which expand before us in the future—such love burning to passion, attired in imagery, and speaking in music, is the essence and the soul of poetry. It is this which makes personification the life of poetry. The poet looks upon nature, not with the philosopher, as composed of certain abstractions, certain "cold material laws ;' but he breathes upon them, and they quicken into personal life, and become objects as it wore of personal attachment. The winds with him are not cold currents of air, they are messengers, they are couriers—the messengers of destiny, the couriers of God; the rainbow is not a mere prismatic effect of light; but to the poet, in the language of the Son of Sirach, “it encompasseth the heavens with a glorious circle, and the hands of the Most High have bended it.” The lightning is not simply an electric discharge, it is a barbed arrow of ven
geance, it is winged with death; the thunder is not so much an elemental uproar, as it is the voice of God; the stars are not so much distant worlds, as they are eyes looking down on men with intelligence, sympathy, and love; the ocean is not a dead mass of waters, it is a “glorious mirror to the Almighty's form ;" the sky is not to the poet a “foul and pestilent congregation of vapors," it is a magnificent canopy "fretted with golden fire," nay, to his anointed eye every blade of grass lives, every flower has its sentiment, every tree its moral, and
" Visions, as poetic eyes avow,
Hang in each leaf, and cling to every bough.” This perpetual personification springs from that principle of love which teaches the poet not only to regard all men as his brethren, the whole earth as his home, but to throw his own excess of soul into dumb, deaf, and dead things, and to find even in them subjects of his sympathy, and candidates for his regard. It was in this spirit that poor Burns did not disdain to address the mouse running from his ploughshare as his “ fellow-mortal,” and bespeak even the ill-fated daisy, which the same ploughshare destroyed—say rather transplanted into the garden of never-dying song,
“Wee, modest, crimson-tippet flower,
Thou'st met me in an evil hour,
Thy feeble stem ;
Thou bonnie gem.
Wi' spreckled breast,
The purpling East." Nor, so long as love and the personifying principle springing from it exist, are we afraid for the decline or fall of poetry. Dr. Moir, we humbly conceive, has a morbid and need less horror at the progress of science; he speaks with a sort of timid hope of " poetry ultimately recovering from the staggering blows which science has inflicted, in the shape of steam conveyance, of electro-magnetism, of geological exposition, of political economy, of statistics—in fact, hy a series