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centre in a primæval region of the mind, where things are linked together by laws more slack and capricious than in the world which we know. But it is a true and not a forced imagination; it is a native growth of the mind, and not a mere arrangement of things observed and thought; and is thus pointedly distinguished from such a mess of arbitrary monstrosities as Kehama.'
'Christabel' is the finer of the two poems, and perhaps it gains rather than loses by the fact that it is unfinished. For a finished work rather excludes the thought of that infinity which surrounds every human history; it makes us think that there is an end, which having been gained, there are no more questions to be asked, no changes to be expected. This is the effect which we commonly experience on laying down a novel, whether it have a prosperous or calamitous end. When Ivanhoe marries Rowena, the reader is satisfied; when the Laird of Ravenswood is swallowed up in the sands, he is, if not satisfied, at least not inclined to make any further inquiries; in fact, it does not enter into his head to do so. He does not concern himself about the future at all. But the realm of reality never stops; whether we perceive it or not, it extends onward into the illimitable continuity of the universe. And to express this infinity is a rare and peculiar merit in a work of art; few even among the greatest men have compassed it; and perhaps in many cases where it is found, it may be rather an exquisite accident than the result of study and knowledge. The Prometheus of Eschylus, Michael Angelo's statues of Night and Day, 'Hamlet' (not so much by virtue of the story as from the intense personality of Hamlet, which we cannot conceive as perishing even with his bodily death), and Goethe's 'Faust ;' in a lesser degree, perhaps, the 'Odyssey' (for surely no one ever finished that poem without a wondering interest as to what would happen to Ulysses in the future). These are the most prominent instances. Ought we to add Dante's great poem? We think not, for the infinity contained in it is a known infinity; an infinity without change, as measurable and comprehensible as is the infinity of a pair of parallel lines. It transcends our intellect by magnitude, not by the nature of the ideas it contains. Whereas the infinity here spoken of is that of an ever varying and developing reality.
Though Christabel' cannot for substance and comprehensiveness be classed with the great works above-named, it is no less unique, no less genuine, no less spiritual, than any of them. What shall be said of the creation of such a poem? Observation, thought, intellectual energy, these contributed to it but the barest lineaments, the scantiest outlines. The matter of it
came from the heart of the poet; it is the personification and embodiment of those forces whose struggle takes place, not in the region of nerve and muscle, but in the inmost circle of the spirit; amid those pulses and delicate fibres which in most men vibrate unheeded and unfelt, but which the sensitive tact of the poet retains, observes, and brings to light. This is the true essence of poetry. It is curious to compare 'Christabel' with the earthly energy of the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel,' or with the passionate force of the Giaour'-either of them equally plain and straightforward, and intelligible to the coarsest understanding.
Of the Ancient Mariner' the best criticism is that made by Coleridge himself. Mrs. Barbauld-so we read in the Tabletalk'-had alleged two faults in it; first, that the story was improbable; secondly, that it had no moral.
As for the probability,' Coleridge says, 'I owned that that might admit some question; but as to the want of a moral, I told her that in my judgment the poem had too much; and that the only, or chief fault, if I might say so, was the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly on the reader as a principle or cause of action in a work of such pure imagination. It ought to have had no more moral than the Arabian Nights' tale of the merchant's sitting down to eat dates by the side of a well, and throwing the shells aside, and lo! a genie starts up, and says he must kill the aforesaid merchant, because one of the date shells had, it seems, put out the eye of the genie's son.'
It may, perhaps, be reasonably thought that the latter part of this criticism goes too far, and that some moral or emotional principle ought to underlie every poem, however remote it may apparently be from the world to which we are accustomed ; that a series of fanciful pictures, like the 'Arabian Nights,' is not, in the strict sense, poetry. But the obtrusiveness of the moral is no doubt a fault in the Ancient Mariner,' and puts it below the level of Christabel,' which has besides throughout a more delicate workmanship. Take for instance from the latter the following passage, which has always appeared to us to be marked by a curiously felicitous blending of imagery and sentiment:
'The moon shines dim in the open air,
The silver lamp burns dead and dim:
Taken in connexion with the rest of the poem, the dimness of the moon and of the lamp have a mysterious meaning; but, independently of this, the figures strange and sweet, all made out of the carver's brain,' carry us away to far other regions than those which are actually present before us. "The twofold silver chain' is a graphic touch.
On the other hand, the scenery of the 'Ancient Mariner' is more weird and tremendous than in the other; and some passages of it-particularly the conception of Life-in-Death—exhibit the only successful instances in his writings, or, we may add, in the writings of any poet of this or the last century, of that sublimity which is allied to terror.
Coleridge did indeed often aim at such sublimity; but in general, to say that he failed conveys a very inadequate idea of the depths to which he fell. He was, to do him justice, partly aware of his failure. My poems,' he said, 'have been rightly charged with a profusion of double epithets and a general turgidness. When in his worst and most inflated mood, this was the sort of stuff that he wrote:
Pure Faith! meek Piety! The abhorred Form
Whose names were many and all blasphemous,
On whose black front was written Mystery, &c., &c.
passages which harmoniously, but not agreeably, combine the styles of Dr. Cumming, Mr. Robert Montgomery, and Mr. M. F. Tupper, but of which it is at first sight inexplicable how Coleridge came to write them. We believe, however, that it resulted partly from his admiration of Mr. Bowles: a poet admired at that time by many men of genius, of whom Wilson was one, and who was flattered even by Byron, but whose works to readers of the present day seem downright twaddle. Our respect for Coleridge forbids us to quote more of the 'Religious Musings or the Destiny of Nations;' and if those two poems, together with his early sonnets, were excluded from his published works it would be the better for his poetic fame. After all, the same
may be said of Shelley's 'Edipus Tyrannus,' of Byron's "Hints from Horace,' and of a still more considerable portion of Wordsworth's poems. An age of effervescence is always an age of inequality.
Two of Coleridge's most celebrated poems are the 'Ode to France,' extolled by Shelley as the finest ode of modern times; and the 'Hymn in the Vale of Chamouni,' which, as is well known, is an expansion of twenty lines by Frederica Brunn. Neither, however, can be placed altogether in the first rank of poems. The 'France' is too contentious: we hear too much of 'blasphemy' and 'priestcraft;' it is instinct rather with the spirit of the controversialist than of the lyrist. Yet the first stanza is fine and worthy of remembrance. The 'Hymn in the Vale of Chamouni,' again, is open to this criticism—that it has, strictly speaking, no subject: no central point, that is, to which all the lines converge. To which of these two things is it that the poet seeks to direct our attention: the intrinsic beauty and majesty of the mountains and rocks and glaciers, or the fact that all this richness of external Nature was the creation of God? When Isaiah wrote, 'Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? . . . . It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in,'-it is plain that the Prophet uses the majesty of Nature as a mere step to lead to the majesty of God; he would not mention the heavens and mountains and hills at all, were it not for the sake of the other. On the other hand, when Wordsworth wrote these lines
'I love the brooks which down their channels fret,
The clouds that gather round the setting sun
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality,' &c.
it is the pure beauty of Nature, clearly, which is his central point, into whatever distant regions of thought or feeling it leads him -and he does wander very far from it in the course of his poem -yet that which inspires him is always felt to be the glory of flowers and waters and stars and sunsets. But now take these lines of Coleridge
'Ye icefalls! ye that from the mountain's brow
Who made you glorious as the gates of Heaven
What, here, is the true theme of the poet, the inspiring reality? Is it, as was the case with Isaiah, and as is professedly the case here, the Divine Being? We answer, No. It was a sentiment of propriety, and not of inspiration, that led Coleridge to give a religious turn to his lines; and propriety is a bad guide in poetry. He had no business to feign an enthusiasm. The real poetic vigour of the piece, which is considerable, lies entirely in the descriptions.
It may be remarked that Mr. Browning, in one of his most celebrated poems, Saul,' has fallen into a similar error, where he represents David in returning from the presence of Saul, to whom he has been prophesying, as at once conscious of the presence of unseen spirits
'There were witnesses, cohorts about me, to left and to right, Angels, powers, the unuttered, unseen, the alive, the aware
and being also at the same time deeply impressed by, and exercising a keen observation on, the phenomena of Nature:
'I saw it die out in the day's tender birth;
We are incredulous. If David had really felt the angels present he would not have observed external things so accurately.
None of Coleridge's pieces is better known than the 'Genevieve.' The first stanza of it is most excellent:
'All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
All are but ministers of love,
And feed his sacred flame.'
But the rest is not much more than sentimentally pretty, of that sort of prettiness which is often popular. On the other hand,