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The latest of Dr. Bowring's contributions to his European Anthology is his Poetry of the Magyars. For this volume he seems to think it more „necessary, than on any previous occasion, to bespeak the forbearance and candour of his readers; and, perhaps, as compared either with its Servian predecessor, or the Ancient Poetry of Spain, its effect will be felt to be comparatively monotonous; though this result is unquestionably owing to no fault of the translator. On the contrary, his skill in the mechanism of translation has, as might have been expected, increased by practice; the propensity to ornament the original by epithet or antithesis, which is the besetting sin of translators, he seems to have in a great measure weaned himself from, and to have adhered as closely as the analogy of the languages and the difficulties of versification would permit, to the grand principle of exhibiting the author—as he is. But, though Hungary is associated with some interesting historical recollections, and though a certain interest must always be awakened in favour of the literature of a language now almost extinct, and which it seems the wish of its Austrian master to abolish altogether, Dr, Bowring himself seems hardly to claim for them any very exalted station upon his Gradus ad Parnassum. Even before the liberties and energies of Hungary were overthrown by the battle of the White Mountain in 1620, though the Bohemian language appears to have been in a state of high cultivation, and the number of its pure writers considerable, its poets are undeserving of much note; nor do their collections of fugitive and anonymous poetry ever appear to have been either interesting or numerous. With that fatal battle, every thing in literature, politics, or church government, which could give to Hungary an independent national character, was at an end; the charter of its liberties, contained in the famous letter of his majesty, was cancelled, and the best blood of Bohemia poured upon the scaffold. Since the day, says the old cellar-master in the Piccolomini,
" When Palsgrave Frederick lost his crown and kingdom,
Its faith was shorn of chancel and of altar;
With his own hand the Emperor cut in two." Amidst these scenes of banishment, proscription, and blood, and this prostration of national spirit and independence, the poetical genius of Hungary was little likely to display itself in any lofty or enduring monument of taste and skill, or even in the preservation or adaptation of those brief but energetic and spirit-stirring traditions which form so important an element in the national poetry of Spain. And at last the extinction of the Transylvanian court, and the transference of the elite of society to Vienna, completed that desolation which the early subjugation of Bohemia had begun.
The greater part of the Hungarian poetry, therefore, as might be expected, is of an imitalive cast. Many of their best poets wrote in Latin; but even in those who still used the neglected Magyar language, the influence of foreign literature is sufficiently obvious. Sweetness and polish, rather than strength, are its characteristics; their verses reflect that sine ear for music and harmony,
which seems to be a distinguishing quality in the Bohemian character. Their thoughts, though seldom grand, are generally natural and unexaggerated; their imagery appropriate, though confined in its range. In the elegiac and Anacreontic, many of their poets appear to have been extremely successful; and not a few of them have used the difficult
Sapphic stanza with a grace and mastery of which we know scarcely any parallel, except in some of the Rimas of Villegas. In the sonnet, also, they have been no unworthy followers of the classic neatness, compression, and melody, of their Italian prototypes. In short, whatever could be done by care, by polish, by good taste and good feeling, they have done well; though, in the loftier walks of poetry, they have not been very enterprising or successful adventurers.
In conclusion, we cannot but congratulate Dr. Bowring upon the accessions which he has made to our information as to the poetical literature of other countries, and acknowledge the pleasure we have derived from many of the specimens which he has introduced to our notice. To himself, we doubt not, the work has been a labour of love. “ I have never,” says he “ left the ark of my country, but with the wish to return to it, bearing fresh olivebranches of peace, and fresh garlands of poetry. I never yet visited the land where I sound not much to love, to learn, to imitate, to honour. I Dever yet saw man utterly despoiled of his humanities. In Europe, at least there are no moral nor intellectual wildernesses.” He has done much by his exertions to impress others with the same conviction; to awaken our sympathies for nations who are endeavouring to form to themselves a future poetical literature, or to preserve the wrecks of a past; and to correct those errors or prejudices with which older and more established literatures have been regarded.
To one, too, who himself possesses a poetical imagination, there is a gratification of no common kind, in endeavouring to save from forgetfulness the names of so many poets “immeritis mori.” When Xerxes reviewed his army from the top of Mount Athos, he is said to have wept at the reflection how few of all that vast multitude would, in the course of a short time, be in existence. A feeling of the same kind must often occur to the minds of those who contemplate from that elevated point of view which Dr. Bowring has occupied, the wide field of European poetry. How small the number of those labourers in the vineyards, who are now seen instinct with activity and gay hope, will survive the lapse of a few years! how many even in their own lifetime, are doomed to follow the funeral of their fame! how very few can even hope to make their way beyond the limited sphere of their own country! But the poet sympathises with the poet; and though kis single efforts may not be able to save many from that oblivion which is overtaking them, it will still be to him a proud reflection, if he has succeeded in rescuing from forgetfulness one strain which should have been bequeathed to immortality, or even in reviving to a second short course of posthumous existence, some names over which that dark and silent tide seemed to have closed for ever.
THE LAKE SCHOOL OF POETRY.*
Poetry has this much, at least, in common with religion, that its standards were fixed long ago, by certain inspired writers, whose authority it is no longer lawful to call in question; and that many profess to be entirely devoled to it, who have no good works to produce in support of their preten
* Southey's Thalaba.-Vol. i. p. 63. October, 1802.
sions. The catholic poetical church, too, has worked but few miracles o since the first ages of its establishment; and has been more prolific, for long time, of Doctors, than of Saints : it has had its corruptions and reformation also, and has given birth to an infinite variety of heresies and errors, the " followers of which have hated and persecuted each other as cordially as 1 other bigots.
The author who is now before us belongs to a sect of poets, that has es i tablished itself in this country within these ten or twelve years, and is looked upon, we believe, as one of its chief champions and apostles. The peculiar doctrines of this sect, it would not, perhaps, be very easy to explain; but, that they are dissenters from the established systems in poetry and criticism, is admitted, and proved, indeed, by the whole tenor of their compositions. Though they lay claim, we believe, to a creed and a revelation of their own, there can be little doubt that their doctrines are of German origin, and have been derived from some of the great modern reformers in that country. Some of their leading principles, indeed, are probably of an earlier date, and seem to have been borrowed from the great apostle of Geneva. As Mr. Southey is the first author of this persuasion that has yet been brought before us for judgment, we cannot discharge our inquisitorial office conscientiously, without premising a few words upon the nature and tendency tenets he has helped to promulgate.
The disciples of this school boast much of its originality, and seem to value themselves very highly, for having broken loose from the bondage of ancient authority, and reasserted the independence of genius. Originality, however, we are persuaded, is rarer than mere alteration; and a man may change a good master for a bad one, without finding himself at all nearer to independence. That our new poets have abandoned the old models, may certainly be admitted ; but we have not been able to discover that they have yet created any models of their own; and are very much inclined to call in question the worthiness of those to which they have transferred their admiration. The productions of this school, we conceive, are so far from being entitled to the praise of originality, that they cannot be better characterised, than by an enumeration of the sources from which their materials have been derived. The greater part of them, we apprehend, will be found to be composed of the following elements: 1. The antisocial principles and distempered sensibility of Rousseau—his discontent with the present constitution of society-his paradoxical morality, and his perpetual hankerings after some unattainable state of voluptuous virtue and perfection. 2. The simplicity and energy (hurresco referens) of Kotzebue and Schiller. 3. The homeliness and harshness of some of Cowper's language and versification, interchanged occasionally with the innocence of Ambrose Philips, or the quaintness of Quarles and Dr. Donne. From the diligent study of these few originals, we have no doubt that an entire art of poetry may be collected, by the assistance of which the very gentlest of our readers may soon be qualified to compose a poem as correctly versified as Thalaba, and to deal out sentiment and deseription, with all the sweetness of Lambe, and all the magnificence of Coleridge.
The authors of whom we are now speaking have among them, unquestionably, a very considerable portion of poetical talent, and have consequently been enabled to seduce many into an admiration of the false taste (as it appears to us) in which mosi of their productions are composed. They constitute, at present, the most formidable conspiracy that has lately been
formed against sound judgment in matters poetical; and are entitied to a larger biriy share of our censorial notice, than could be spared for an individual de
linquent. We shall hope for the indulgence of our readers, therefore, in en taking this opportunity to enquire a little more particularly into their merits,
and to make a few remarks upon those peculiarities which seem to be regarded by their admirers as the surest proofs of their excellence.
Their most distinguishing symbol is undoubtedly an affectation of great simplicity and familiarity of language. They disdain to make use of the common poetical phraseology, or to ennoble iheir diction by a selection of fine or dignified expressions. There would be too much art in this for that great love of nature with which they are all of them inspired; and their sentiments, they are determined, shall be indebted, for their effect, to no-thing but their intrinsic tenderness or elevation. There is something very noble and conscientious, we will confess, in this plan of composition; but the misfortune is, that there are passages in all poems, that can neither be pathetic nor sublime; and that, on these occasions, a neglect of the embellishments of language is very apt to produce absolute meanness and insipidity. The language of passion, indeed, can scarcely be deficient in elevation; and when an author is wanting in that particular, he may commonly be presumed to have failed in the truth, as well as in the dignity, of his expression. The case, however, is extremely different with the subordinate parts of a composition; with the narrative and descriptions, that are necessary to preserve its connection; and the explanation, that must frequent
ly prepare us for the great scenes and splendid passages. In these, all the i requisite ideas may be conveyed, with sufficient clearness, by the meanest
and most negligent expressions; and, if magnificence or beauty is ever to be observed in them, it must have been introduced from some other motive than that of adapting the style to the subject. It is in such passages, accordingly, that we are most frequently offended with low and inelegant expressions; and that the language, which was intended to be simple and natural, is found oftenest to degenerate into mere slovenliness and vulgarity. It is in vain
, too, to expect that the meanness of those parts may be redeemed by the excellence of others. A poet, who aims at all at sublimity or pathos, is like an actor in a high tragic character, and must sustain his dignity throughout
, or become altogether ridiculous. We are apt enough to laugh at the mock-majesty of those whom we know to be but common mortals in private; and cannot permit Hamlet to make use of a single provincial intonation
, although it should only be in his conversation with the graveThe followers of simplicity are, therefore, at all times in danger of occasional degradation ; but the simplicity of this new school seems intended to ensure it . Their simplicity does not consist, by any means,
in the rejection of glaring or superfluous ornament,-in the substitution of elegance for splendour, or in that refinement of art which seeks concealment in its own perfection. It consists, on the contrary, in a very great degree, in the positive and bonâ fide rejection of art altogether, and in the bold use of those rude and negligent expressions which would be banished by a little discrimination. One of their own authors, indeed, has very ingeniously set forth in a kind of manifesto that preceded one of their most flagrant acis
of hostility), that it was their capital object “ to adapt to the uses of poetry the ordinary language of conversation
among the middling and lower orders of the people.” What advantages are to be gained by the success of this
project, we confess ourselves unable to conjecture. The language of the higher and more cultivated orders may fairly be presumed to be better that that of their inferiors : at any rate, it has all those associations in its favour, by means of which, a style can ever appear beautiful or exalted ; and is adapled to the purposes of poetry by having been long consecrated to its use. The language of the vulgar, on the other hand, has all the opposite associations to contend with ; and must seem unfit for poetry (if there were no other reason) merely because it has scarcely ever been employed in it. A great genius may indeed overcome these disadvantages ; but we can scarcely conceive that he should court them. We may excuse a certain homeliness of language in the productions of a ploughman or a milkwoman; but we cannot bring ourselves to admire it in an author who has had occasion to indite odes to his college bell, and inscribe hymns to the Penates.
But the mischief of this new system is not confined to the depravation of language only; it extends to the sentiments and emotions, and leads to the debasement of all those feelings which poetry is designed to communicate. It is absurd, to suppose that an author should make use of the language of the vulgar to express the sentiments of the refined. His professed object, in employing that language, is to bring his compositions nearer to the true standard of nature; and his intention to copy the sentiments of the lower orders is implied in his resolution to make use of their style. Now, the different classes of society have each of them a distinct character, as well as a separate idiom; and the names of the various passions to which they are subject respectively, have a signification that varies essentially, according to the condition of the persons to whom they are applied. The love, or grief, or indignation of an enlightened and refined chara ter, is not only expressed in a different language, but is in itself a different emotion, from the love, or grief, or anger of a clown, a tradesman, or a market-wench. The things themselves are radically and obviously distinct; and the representation of them is calculated to convey a very different train of sympathies and sensations to the mind. The question, therefore, comes simply to bewhich of them is the most proper object for poetical imitation? It is needless for us to answer a question, which the practice of all the world has long ago decided irrevocably. The poor and vulgar may interest us, in poetry, by their situation : but never, we apprehend, by any sentiments that are peculiar to their condition, and still less by any language that is characteristic of it. The truth is, that it is impossible to copy their diction or their sentiments correctly, in a serious composition; and this, not merely because poverty makes men ridiculous, but because just taste and refined sentiment are rarely to be met with among the uncultivated part of mankind; and a language, fitted for their expression, can still more rarely form any part of their “ordinary conversation." The low-bred heroes and interesting rustics of poetry have no sort of affinity to the real vulgar of this world; they are imaginary beings, whose characters and language are in contrast with their situation; and please those, who can be pleased with them, by the marvellous, and not by the nature of such a combination. In serious poetry, a man of the middling or lower order must necessarily lay aside a great deal of his ordinary language; he must avoid errors in grammar and orthography: and steer clear of the cant of particular professions, and of every impropriety that is ludicrous or disgusting : nay, he must speak in good verse, and observe all the graces in prosody and collocation. After