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The car of Neptune scours the deep no more; but there is, instead, the great steam-vessel walking the calm watcrs in triumphant beauty, or else wrestling like a demon of kindred power, with the angry billows. Apollo and the Muses are gone; but in their room there stands the illimitable, undefinable thing called Genius—the electricity of the intellect—the divinest element in the mind of man.Newton " dissected the rainbow," but left it the rainbow still. Anson" circumnavigated the earth,” but it still wheels round the sun, blots out at times the moon, and carries a Hell of caverned mysterious fire in its breast. Franklin brought down the lightnings on his kite; but, although they said to him, “Here we are," they did not tell him, “This or that are we.” In short, beauty, power, all the poctical influences and elements, retire continually before us like the horizon, and the end and the place of them are equally and for ever unknown.
Delta is, as all who are acquainted with him know, a man of genuine, though unobtrusive, piety. Every line of his poetry proves him a Christian. And it is on this account that we venture to ask him, in fine, how will this theory of his consort with the doctrine of man's immortal progress? how account for the ever-welling poetry of the “New Song ?" and how explain the attitude of those beings who, knowing God best, admire him the most, praise him most vehemently, and pour out before him the richest incense of wonder and worship? Here is poetry surviving amid the very blaze of celestial vision; and surely we need not expect that any stage of mental advancement on earth can ever see its permanent decline or decay.
If we have dwelt rather long upon this point, it is partly because we count it a question of considerable moment; because we think Delta's notion in reference to it is pushed forward somewhat prominently, and more than once, and because it is one of the few theories in the book which, while it has a general character, is susceptible of special objections. We have indeed still one or two of his minor statements to combat. But we pass, first, with sincere gratification, to speak of the main merits of his book.
The most prominent, perhaps, of these, is Catholicity. He is a generous, as well as a just, judge. He has looked over the poetry of the last fifty years with an eye of wise love. Finding two schools in our literature, which, after a partial and hollow truce, are gradually diverging, if not on the point of breaking out, into open hostility, he has, in some measure, acted as a mediator between them. Not concealing his peculiar favor for the one, he is yet candid and eloquent in his appreciation of the demi-gods of the other. Adoring Scott, be is just to Shelley. He sees the fire mingled with mysticism, “like tongues of flame amid the smoke of a confiagration;" but he greatly prefers the swept hearth and the purged, clear, columnar flames of the ancient Homeric manner. Inclining to what he thinks the more excellent way, he does not denounce as a dunce or an impostor every one who has chosen, or who encourages others in choosing, another and a more perilous style. The energy and beauty of his praise show, moreover, its sincerity. False or ignorant panegyric may easily be detected. It is clumsy, careless, and fulsome; it often praises writers for qualities they possess not, or it singles out their faults for beauties, or by overdoing, overlcaps itself, and falls on the other side. It now gives black eyes to the Saxon, and now fair hair to the Italian-commends Milton for his equality, Dryden for his imagination, Pope for his nature, and Byron for his truth. Very different with honest praise. It shows, first, by the stroke of a moment, the man it means, and after drawing a strong and hard outline of his general character, it makes the finer and warmer shades flush over it gently and swistly, as the vivid green of spring passes over the fields. And such always, or generally, is the distinct, yet imaginative, the clear and eloquent praise of Delta.
He goes to criticise, too, in the spirit of a poet. Prosaic criticism of poetry is a nuisance which neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear. A drunkard cursing the moon-a maniac foaming at some magnificent statue, which stands serene and safe above his reach—or a ruffian crushing roses on his way to midnight plunder, is but a type of the sad work which a clever, but heartless and unimaginative, critic often makes of works of genius. Nay, there is a class, less despicable, but more pernicious, who make their moods and states play the critic--now the moods of their mind, and now the states of their stomach, the verdicts of which, neverthe. less, issued in cold, oracular print, are received by the public as veracious. There is a set, again, whose criticisms are formed upon the disgustingly dishonest principle of picking out all the faults, and ignoring all the beauties, of a composition; and who do not give the faults even the poor advantage of showing them in their context. And there are those who judge of books by their publisher, or by the nation of their author, or by his profession, or by his reputed creed. It were certainly contemptible to allude to the existence of such reptiles at all, were it not that they are permitted to crawl in some popular periodicals; that they shelter under, and abuse the shade of the “ Anonymous;" and that they have prevailed to retard the wider circulation of the writings, without being able to check the spread of the fame, of some of the most gifted of our living men. To take one out of many cases, we simply ask the question, Have some of our leading London journals ever taken the slightest notice of any one of the works of perhaps the most eloquent and powerful genius at present alive in Britain-we mean Professor Wilson ? And if this has been little loss to him, has it been less a disgrace to them? Delta is altogether a man of another spirit. He is at once a poet and a gentleman; and how fortunate were many of our critics, could he transfer even the lesser half of this fine whole to them! His genial enthusiasm never, or seldom, blinds his discriminating eyesight. And throughout all this volume he has praised very few indeed who have not, in some field or another of poetry, eminently distinguished themselves.
We mention again the wide knowledge of the poetry of the period which his lectures display. This bursts out, as it were, at every pore of the book. There is no appearance of cramming for his task, although here and there he does allude to writers who have either, per se, or per alios, been thrust into the field of his view. We notice, however, that he has made one or two important omissions. His silence as to Sydney Yendys, was, we understand, an oversight. The slip containing a criticism of “The Roman,” accidentally slipped out as the printing was going on. It was the same with a notice of Taylor's “Eve of the Conquest.” Other blanks there are, but, on the whole, when we consider the width of the field he has traversed, the marvel is that they are so few.
We have a more serious objection to state. It is with regard to the scale he has (in effect, though indirectly) constructed of our poets. Scott he sets " alone and above all," then he places Wordsworth, Byron, Wilson, and Coleridge, on one level–Campbell, Southey, James Montgomery, Moore, and Crabbe, seem to stand in the next file; then come Pollok, Aird, Croly, and Milman; then Keats, Shelley, and Tennyson; and, in fine, the oi no 201, the minor, or rising poets. Delta will pardon us if we have mistaken his meaning, but this has been the impression left on us by the perusal of his lectures. Now, adinitting that Scott, in breadth, variety, health, dramatic and descriptive powers, was the finest writer of his age, yet surely he is not to be compared as a poet with many others of the time; nor as a profound thinker and consummate artist, with such men as Wordsworth and Coleridge. As a Vates, what proportion between him and Shelley, Keats and Byron? In terseness and true vigor, he yields to Crabbe; and in lyrical eloquence and fire, to Campbell. Wilson, as a man of general genius and Shakspearian all-sidedness, is inferior to few men of any age; but, as a poet, as an artist, as a writer, has done nothing entitling him to rank with Byron, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. Campbell and Crabbe are commensurate names, but they rank as poets much more highly above Southey and Montgomery than Delta seems willing to admit. And, greatly as we admire Croly, Aird, and Pollok, we are forced to set Keats and Shelley above them in point of richness and power of genius, as well as of artistic capacity.
Delta, in his capacity of poet, is not uniformally national; but, as a critic, his heart beats most warmly, and his language flows out with most enthusiasm and fluency, toward the poets of Scotland. He has mingled with some of the noblest of English spirits too; may, for aught we know, have climbed Helvellyn with Wordsworth; has, at any rate, "seated at Coleridge's bedside at Hampstead, heard him recite the “Monody” to Chatterton, in tones “delicate, yet deep, and long drawn out;" but he has evidently been on terms of more fond and familiar intercourse with the bards of his own country. He has sat occasionally at the “ Noctes Ambrosianæ," has frequently walked with Aird through the sweet gardens of Duddingston, listened to Wilson sounding on his way as they
scaled Arthur's Seat together, or to Hogg repeating “ Kilmeny," mingled souls with poor William Motherwell, and crossed pipes with Dr. Macnish, the Modern Pythagorean has read the “ Course of Time” in MS., and now and then seen Abbotsford in its glory, while the white peak of the wizard's head was still shining amid its young plantations. Hence a little natural exaggeration in speaking of the men and the subjects he knows best-an exaggeration honorable to his heart, not dishonorable to his head, and which does not detract much from the value of his estimates; nay, it has enabled him, in reference to Scottish genius, to write with a fine combination of generous ardor, and of perfect mastery. Cordially do we unite with him in condemning the gross affectations, the deliberate darkness, the foul smoke, and, above all, the assumption, exclusiveness, and conceit, which distinguish the writings of our minor mystics; and we have already granted that he is just in his estimate of the genius of many of ihe higher members of the school, and sincere in his desire to produce a reconciliation between them and their more lucid and classical brethren. Still we could have wished that he had entered more systematically and profoundly into the points of difference between the two schools, and the important asthetical questions which are staked upon their resolution. He might, for instance, have traced the origin of mystical poetry to the fact that there are in poetry as well as in philosophy, things hard to be understood, words unutterable, yet pressing against the poet's brain for utterance; have shown that the expression given to such things should be as clear and simple as possible; that the known should never be passed off for the unknown under a disguise of words (even as a full might be mistaken for a crescent moon, behind a cloud sufficiently thick), that a mere ambitious desire to utter the unknown should never be confounded with a real knowledge of any of its mysterious provinces; that as no system of mystical philosophy is, as yet, complete, so it has never yet been the inspiration of a truly great and solid poem, although it has produced many beautiful fragments—that fragments are in the meantime the appropriate tongue of the mystical, as certainly as that there is no encyclopedia written in Sanscrit, and no continent composed of aerolites—that even great genius, such as Shelley's