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ON THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SHAKSPEARE.
TO JUDGE with fairness of an author's works, we must observe, firstly, what is essential; and secondly, what arises from circumstances. It is essential, as in Milton, that poetry be simple, sensuous, and impassionate :-simple, that it may appeal to the elements and the primary laws of our nature; sensuous, since it is only by sensuous images that we can elicit truth as at a flash; impassionate, since images must be vivid, in order to move our passions, and awaken our affections.
In judging of different poets, we ought to enquire what authors have brought into fullest play our imagination, or have created the greatest excitements, and produced the completest harmony.Considering only great exquisiteness of language, and sweetness of metre, it is impossible to deny to Pope the title of a delightful writer: whether he be a poet must be determined as we define the word; doubtless, if every thing that pleases be poetry, Pope's satires and epistles must be poetry. Poetry, however, as distinguished from general modes of composition, does not rest in metre; it is not poetry if it make no appeal to our imagination, our passions, and our sympathy.-One character attaches to all true poets,—they write from a principle within, independent of every thing without. The work of a true poet, in its form, its shapings and modifications, is distinguished from all other works that assume to belong to the class of poetry, as a natural from an artificial flower; or as the mimic garden of a child from an enamelled meadow. In the former the flowers are broken from their stems, and stuck in the ground; they are beautiful to the eye, and fragrant to the sense; but their colours soon fade, and their odour is transient as the smile of the planter: while the meadow may be visited again and again with renewed delight; its beauty is innate in the soil, and its bloom is of the freshness of nature.
The next ground of judging is, how far a poet is influenced by accidental circumstances--he writes not for past ages, but for that in which he lives, and that which is to follow. It is natural that he should conform to the circumstances of his day; but a true genius will stand independent of these circumstances; and it is observable of Shakspeare, that he leaves little to regret that he was born in such an age. The great era in modern times was what is called the restoration of literature; the ages which preceded it were called the dark ages; it would be more wise, perhaps, to say the
The distinction between the mere fabricator of harmonious metre and the genuine poet, was never more impressively drawn than through the medium of this lovely and truly original simile.