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cessa starting at the tremulous kiss, and drop}. the fatal volume. Far from it. i

eve that they admired these things less than him which of the players he liked best. We this he answered, with some appearance of in

ourselves, but that they felt them more. should perhaps say, that they felt them too much to admire them. The progress of a nation from barbarism to civilization produces a change similar to that which takes place during the progress of an individual from infancy to mature age. What man does not remember with regret the first time that he read Robinson Crusoe? Then, indeed, he was unable to appreciate the powers of the writer; or rather, he nei• ther knew nor cared whether the book had a writer at all. He probably thought it not half so fine as some rant of Macpherson about darkbrowed Foldath, and white-bosomed Strinadona. He now values Fingal and Temora only as showing with how little evidence a story may be believed, and with how little merit a book may be popular. Of the romance of Defoe he entertains the highest opinion. He perceives the hand of a master in ten thousand touches, which formerly he passed by without notioe. But though he understands the merits of the narrative better than formerly, he is far less interested by it. Xury, and Friday, and pretty Poll, the boat with the shoulder-of-mutton sail, and the canoe which could not be brought down to the water's edge, the tent with its hedge and ladders, the preserve of kids, and the den where the old goat died, can never again be to him the realities which they were. The days when his favourite volume set him upon making wheel-barrows and chairs, upon digging caves and fencing huts in the garden, can never return. Such is the law of our nature. Our judgment ripens, our imagination decays. We cannot at once enjoy the flowers of the spring of life and the fruits of its autumn, the pleasures of close investigation and those of agreeable error. We cannot sit at once in the front of the stage and behind the scenes. We cannot be under the illusion of the spectacle, while we are watching the movements of the ropes and pulleys which dispose it. The chapter in which Fielding describes the behaviour of Partridge at the theatre, affords so complete an illustration of our proposition, that we cannot refrain from quoting some parts of it. “Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick which he had denied to Jones, and sell into so violent a trembling that his knees knocked against each other. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior upon the stage!—‘O, la, sir,’ said ne, “I perceive now it is what you told me. I am not afraid of anything, for I know it is but a play; and if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance and in so much company; and yet if I was frightened, I am not the only person.”—“Why, who, cries Jones, ‘dost thou take to be such a coward here besides thyself?”—“Nay, you may call me a coward if you will; but if that little man there upon the stage is not frightened, I never saw any man frightencil in my life.' ... He sat with his eyes fixed partly on the Ghost and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet, suc

eceded likewise in him.

“Little more worth remembering occurred

We be- during the play. at the end of which Jones asked forth our tears, to the art by which those images have been selected and combined. We applaud the genius of the writer. We applaud our own sagacity and sensibility, and we are comforted.

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dignation at the question, “the King, without doubt.'-'Indeed, Mr. Partridge,’ says Mrs. MilJer, “you are not of the same opinion with the town; for they are all agreed that Hamlet is acted by the best player who was ever on the stage.”—“He the best player!' cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer; ‘why I could act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did. And then, to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, between him and his mother, where you told me he acted so fine, why, any man, that is any good man, that had such a mother, would have done exactly the same. I know you are only joking with me; but indeed, madam, though I never was at a play in London, yet I have seen acting before in the country, and the King for my money; he speaks all his words distinctly, and half as loud again as the other. Anybody may see he is an actor.’” In this excellent passage Partridge is represented as a very bad theatrical critic. But none of those who laugh at him possess the tithe of his sensibility to theatrical excellence. He admires in the wrong place; but he trem bles in the right place. It is indeed because he is so much excited by the acting of Garrick, that he ranks him below the strutting, mouthing performer, who personates the King. So, we have heard it said, that in some parts of Spain and Portugal, an actor who should represent a depraved character finely, instead of calling down the applauses of the audience, is hissed and pelted without mercy. It would be the same in England, if we, for one moment, thought that Shylock or Iago was standing before us. While the dramatic art was in its infancy at Athens, it produced similar effects on the ardent and imaginative spectators. It is

said that they blamed Æschylus for frightening

them into sits with his Furies. Herodotus tells us, that when Phrynichus produced his tragedy on the fall of Miletus, they fined him in a penalty of a thousand drachmas, for torturing their feelings by so pathetic an exhibition. They did not regard him as a great artist, but merely as a man who had given them pain. When they woke from the distressing illusion, they treated the author of it as they would have treated a messenger who should have brought them fatal and alarming tidings, which turned out to be false. In the same manner, a child screams with terror at the sight of a person in an ugly mask. He has perhaps seen the mask put on. But his imagination is too strong for his reason, and he entreats that it may be taken off. We should act in the same manner, if the grief and horror produced in us by works of the imagination amounted to real torture. But in us these emotions are comparatively languid. They rarely affect our appetite or our sleep. They leave us sufficiently at ease to trace them to their causes, and to estimate the powers which produce them. Our attention is speedily diverted from the images which cal.

Yet, though we think that, in the progress of

nations towards refinement, the reasoning

powers are improved at the expense of the imagination, we acknowledge, that to this rule there are many apparent exceptions. We are not, however, quite satisfied that they are more than apparent. Men reasoned better, for example, in the time of Elizabeth than in the time of Egbert; and they also wrote better poetry. But we must distinguish between poetry and a mental act, and poetry as a species of composition. If we take it in the latter sense, its excellence depends, not solely on the vigour of the imagination, but partly also on the instruments which the imagination employs. Within certain limits, therefore, poetry may be improving, while the poetical faculty is decaying. The vividness of the picture presented to the reader is not necessarily proportioned to the vividness of the prototype which exists in the mind of the writer. In the other arts we see this clearly. Should a man, gifted by nature with all the genius of Canova, attempt to carve a statue without instruction as to the management of his chisel, or attention to the anatomy of the human body, he would produce something compared with which the Highlander at the door of the snuff-shop would de- serve admiration. If an uninitiated Raphael were to attempt a painting, it would be a mere daub; indeed, the connoisseurs say, that the early works of Raphael are little better. Yet, who can attribute this to want of imagination ? Who can doubt that the youth of that great artist was passed amidst an ideal world of beautiful and majestic forms ? Or, who will attribute the difference which appears between his first rude essays, and his magnificent Transfiguration, to a change in the constitution of his mind? In poetry, as in painting and sculpture, it is necessary that the imitator should be well acquainted with that which he undertakes to imitate, and expert in the mechanical part of his art. Genius will not furnish him with a vocabulary: it will not teach him what word most exactly corresponds to his idea, and will most fully convey it to others: it will not make him a great descriptive poet, till he has looked with attention on the face of nature; or a great dramatist, till he has felt and witnessed much of the influence of the passions. Information and experience are, therefore, necessary; not for the purpose of strengthening the imagination, which is never so strong as in people incapable of reasoning—savages, children, madmen, and dreamers; but for the purpose of enabling the artist to communicate his conceptions to others. In a barbarous age the imagination exercises a despotic power. So strong is the perception of what is unreal, that it often overpowers all the passions of the mind, and all the sensations of the body. At first, indeed, the phantasm remains undivulged, a hidden treasure, a wordless poetry, an invisible painting, a silent music, a dream of which the pains and pleasures exist to the dreamer alone, a bitterness which

the heart only knoweth, a joy with which a stranger intermeddleth not. The machinery, by which ideas are to be conveyed from one person to another, is as yet rude and defective. | Between mind and mind there is a great gulf. The imitative arts do not exist, or are in their lowest state. But the actions of men amply prove that the faculty which gives birth to those arts is morbidly active. It is not yet the inspiration of poets and sculptors; but it is the amusement of the day, the terror of the night, the fertile source of wild superstitions. It turns the clouds into gigantic shapes, and the winds into doleful voices. The belief which springs from it is more absolute and undoubting than any which can be derived from evidence. It resembles the faith which we repose in our own sensations. hus, the Arab, when covered with wounds, saw nothing but the dark eyes and the green kerchief of a beckoning Houri. The Northern warrior laughed in the pangs of death, when he thought of the mead of Walhalla. The first works of the imagination are, as we have said, poor and rude, not from the want of genius, but from the want of materials. Phidias could have done.nothing with an old tree and a fish-bone, or Homer with the language of New Holland. Yet the effect of these early performances, imperfect as they must necessarily be, is immense. All deficiencies are to be supplied by the susceptibility of those to whom they are addressed. We all know what pleasure a wooden doll, which may be bought for sixence, will afford to a little girl. She will re{. no other company. She will nurse it, dress it, and talk to it all day. No grown-up man takes half so much delight in one of the incomparable babies of Chantrey. In the same manner, savages are more affected by the rude compositions of their bards than nations more advanced in civilization by the greatest masterpieces of poetry. In process of time, the instruments by which the imagination works are brought to perfection. Men have not more imagination than their rude ancestors. We strongly suspect that they have much less. But they produce better works of imagination. Thus, up to a certain period, the diminution of the poetical powers is far more than compensated by the improvement of all the appliances and means of which those powers stand in need. Then comes the short period of splendid and consummate excellence. And then, from causes against which it is vain to struggle, poetry begins to decline. The progress of language, which was at first favourable, becomes fatal to it, and, instead of compensating for the decay of the imagination, accelerates that decay; and renders it more obvious. When the adventurer in the Arabian tale anointed one of his eyes with the contents of the magical box, all the riches of the earth, however widely dis persed, however sacredly concealed, ". visible to him. But when he tried . ment on both eyes, he was struck wit

ixir was to the ness. What the enchanted . to the sight of

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of glorious illusions, but when it becomes too copious, it altogether destroys the visual power. As the development of the mind proceeds, symbols, instead of being employed to convey images, are substituted for them. Civilized men think as they trade, not in kind, but by means of a circulating medium. In these circumstances the sciences improve rapidly, and criticism among the rest; but poetry, in the highest sense of the word, disappears. Then comes the dotage of the fine arts, a second childhood, as feeble as the former, and far more hopeless. This is the age of critical poetry, of poetry by courtesy, of poetry to which the memory, the judgment, and the wit contribute far more than the imagination. We readily allow that many works of this description are excellent; we will not contend with those who think them more valuable than the great poems of an earlier period. We only maintain that they belong to a different species of composition, and are produced by a different faculty. It is some consolation to reflect that this critical school of poetry improves as the science of criticism improves; and that the science of criticism, like every other science, is constantly tending towards perfection. As experiments are multiplied, principles are better understood. In some countries, in our own, for example, there has been an interval between the downfall of the creative school and the rise of the critical, a period during which imagination has been in its decrepitude, and taste in its infancy. Such a revolutionary interregnum as this will be deformed by every species of extravagance. The first victory of good taste is over the bombast and conceits which deform such times as these. But criticism is still in a very imperfect state. What is accidental is for a long time confounded with what is essential. General theories are drawn from detached facts. How many hours the action of a play may be allowed to occupy—how many similes an epic poet may introduce into his first book—whether a piece which is acknowledged to have a beginning and end may not be without a middle, and other questions as puerile as these, formerly occupied the attention of men of letters in France, and even in this country. Poets, in such circumstances as these, exhibit all the narrowness and feebleness of the criticism by which their manner has been fashioned. From outrageous absurdity they are preserved indeed by their timidity. But they perpetually sacrifice nature and reason to arbitrary canons of taste. In their eagerness to avoid the mala prohibita of a foolish code, they are perpetually rushing on the mala in se. Their great predecessors, it is true, were as bad critics as themselves, or perhaps worse; but those predecessors, as we have attempted to show, were inspired by a faculty independent of criticism, and therefore wrote well while they judged ill. In time men begin to take more rational and comprehensive views of literature. The analysis of poetry, which, as we have remarked, must at best be imperfect, approaches nearer and nearer to exactness. The merits of the

wonderful models of former times are justly

appreciated. The frigid productions of a later age are rated at no more than their proper value. Pleasing and ingenious imitations of the manner of the great masters appear. Poetry has a partial revival, a St. Martin's Summer, which, after a period of dreariness and decay, agreeably reminds us of the splendour of its June. A second harvest is gathered in; though, growing on a spent soil, it has not the heart of the former. Thus, in the present age, Monti has successfully imitated the style of Dante; and something of the Elizabethan inspiration has been caught by several eminent countrymen of our own. But never will Italy produce another Inferno, or England another Hamlet. "We look on the beauties of the modern imitations with feelings similar to those with which we see flowers disposed in vases to ornament the drawing-rooms of a capital. We doubtless regard them with pleasure, with greater pleasure, perhaps, because, in the midst of a place ungenial to them, they remind-us of the distant spots on which they flourish in spontaneous exuberance. But we miss the sap, the freshness, and the bloom. Or, if we may borrow another illustration from Queen Scheherezade, we would compare the writers of this school to the jewellers who were employed to complete the unfinished window of the palace of Aladdin. Whatever skill or cost could do was done. Palace and bazaar were ransacked for precious stones. Yet the artists, with all their dexterity, with all their assiduity, and with all their vast means, were unable to produce any thing comparable to the wonders which a spirit of a higher order had wrought in a single night. The history of every literature with which we are acquainted confirms, we think, the principles which we have laid down. In Greece we see the imaginative school of poetry gradually fading into the critical. Æschylus and Pindar were succeeded by Sophocles; Sophocles by Euripides; Euripides by the Alexandrian versifiers. Of these last, Theocritus alone has left compositions which deserve to be read. The splendid and grotesque fairy-land of the Old Comedy, rich with such gorgeous hues, peopled with such fantastic shapes, and vocal alternately with the sweetest peals of music and the loudest bursts of elvish laughter, disappeared forever. The masterpieces of the New Comedy are known to us by Latin translations of extraordinary merit. From these translations, and from the expressions of the ancient critics, it is clear that the original compositions were distinguished by grace and sweetness, that they sparkled with wit and abounded with pleasing sentiments, but that the creative power was gone. Julius Caesar called Terence a half Menander—a sure proof that Menander was not a quarter Aristophanes. The literature of the Romans was merely a continuation of the literature of the Greeks. The pupils started from the point at which their masters had in the course of many generations arrived. . They thus almost wholly missed the period of original invention. The only Latin poets whose writings exhibit much

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vigour of imagination are Lucretius and Catulius. The Augustan age produced nothing equal to their finer passages. In France, that licensed jester, whose jingling cap and motley coat concealed more genius than ever mustered in the saloon of Ninon or of Madame Géofrin, was succeeded by writers as decorous and as tiresome as gentlemenushers. The poetry of Italy and of Spain has undergone the same change. But nowhere has the revolution been more complete and violent than in England. The same person who, when a boy, had clapped his thrilling hands at the first representation of the Tempest, might, without attaining to a marvellous longevity, have lived to read the earlier works of Prior and Addison. The change, we believe, must, sooner or later, have taken place. But its progress was accelerated and its character modified by the political occurrences of the times, and particularly by two events, the closing of the theatres under the Commonwealth, and the restoration of the house of Stuart. We have said that the critical and poetical faculties are not only distinct, but almost incompatible. The state of our literature during the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First is a strong confirmation of this remark. The greatest works of imagination that the world has ever seen were produced at that period. The national taste, in the mean time, was to the last degree detestable. Alliterations, puns, antithetical forms of expression lavishly employed where no" rorresponding opposition existed between the thoughts expressed, strain*d allegories, pedantic allusions, every thing, in short, quaint and affected in matter and manner, made up what was then considered as fine writing. The eloquence of the bar, the pulpit, and the council-board was deformed by conceits which would have disgraced the rhyming shepherds of an Italian academy. The king quibbled on the throne. We might, indeed, console ourselves by reflecting that his majesty was a fool. But the chancellor quibbled in concert from the woolsack, and the chancellor was Francis Bacon. It is needless to mention Sidney and the whole tribe of Euphuists. For Shakspeare himself, the greatest poet that ever lived, falls into the same fault whenever he means to be particularly fine. While he abandons himself to the impulse of his imagination, his compositions are not only the sweetest and the most sublime, but also the most faultless that the world has ever seen. But as soon as his critical powers come into play, he sinks to the level of Cowley, or rather he does ill what Cowley did well. All that is bad in his works is bad elaborately, and of malice aforethought. The only thing wanting to make them perfect was, that he should never have troubled himself with thinking whether they were good or not. Like the anfols in Milton, he sinks “with compulsion and

laborious flight.” His natural tendency is up

wards. That he may soar it is only necessary

that he should not struggle to fall. He resem

bled the American cacique who, possessing in

unmeasured abundance the metals which in

Polished societies are esteemed the most preWol. I-6

cious, was utterly unconscious of their value, and gave up treasures more valuable than the imperial crowns of other countries, to secure some gaudy and far-fetched but worthless bau ble, a plated button, or a necklace of coloured glass. We have attempted to show that, as knowledge is extended, and as the reason developes itself, the imitative arts decay. We should, therefore, expect that the corruption of poetry would commence in the educated classes of society. And this, in fact, is almost constantly the case. The few great works of imagination which appear in a critical age are, almost without exception, the works of uneducated men. Thus, at a time when persons of quality translated French romances, and when the Universities celebrated royal deaths in verses about Tritons and Fauns, a preaching tinker produced the Pilgrim's Progress. And thus a ploughman startled a generation, which had thought Hayley and Beattie great poets, with the adventures of Tam O'Shanter. Even in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth the fashionable poetry had degenerated. It retained few vestiges of the imagination of earlier times. It had not yet been subjected to the rules of good taste. Affectation had completely tainted madrigals and sonnels.

The grotesque conceits and the tuneless numbers of Donne were, in the time of James, the favourite models of composition at Whitehall and at the Temple. But though the literature of the Court was in its decay, the literature of the people was in its perfection. The Muses had taken sanctuary in the theatres, the haunts of a class whose taste was not better than that of the Right Honourables and singular good Lords who admired metaphysical love-verses, but whose imagination retained all its freshness and vigour; whose censure and approbation might be erroneously bestowed, but whose tears and laughter were never in the wrong. The infection which had tainted lyric and didactic poetry had but slightly and partially touched the drama. While the noble and the learned were comparing eyes to burningglasses, and tears to terrestrial globes, coyness to an enthymeme, absence to a pair of conpasses, and an unrequited passion to the fortieth remainderman in an entail, Juliet leaning from the balcony, and Miranda smiling over the chess-board, sent home many spectators, as kind and simple-hearted as the master and mistress of Fletcher's Ralpho, to cry themselves to sleep. No species of fiction is so delightful to us as the old English drama. Even its inferior pro ductions possess a charm not to be found in any other kind of poetry. It is the most lucid mirror that ever was held up to nature. The creations of the great dramatists of Athent,

produce the effect of magnificent sculptures, conceived by a mighty imagination, polished with the utmost delicacy, imbodying ideas of ineffable majesty and beauty, but cold, Pole, and rigid, with no bloom on the cheek. and no speculation in the eye. In all, the draperies the figures, and o: .." o oo:: the tyrants, the Bacchanals o'

o to some rurple chillaess ****

to 2

ness. Most of the characters of the French
stage resemble the waxen gentlemen and ladies
in the window of a perfumer, rouged, curled,
and bedizened, but fixed in such stiff attitudes,
and staring with eyes expressive of such utter
unmeaningness, that they cannot produce an
illusion for a single moment. In the English
plays alone is to be found the warmth, the
mellowness, and the reality of painting. We
know the minds of the men and women, as we
know the faces of the men and women of Wan-
The excellence of these works is in a great
measure the result of two peculiarities, which
the critics of the French school consider as
defects—from the mixture of tragedy and co-
medy, and from the length and extent of the
action. The former is necessary to render the
drama a just representation of a world, in
which the laughers and the weepers are per-
petually jostling each other—in whicn every
event has its serious and its ludicrous side.
The latter enables us to form an intimate ac-
quaintance with characters, with which we
could not possibly become familiar during the
few hours to which the unities restrict the
poet. In this respect the works of Shakspeare,
in particular, are miracies of art. In a piece,
which may be read aloud in three hours, we
see a character gradually unfold all its re-
cesses to us. We see it change with the
change of circumstances. The petulant youth
rises into the politic and warlike sovereign.
The profuse and courteous philanthropist
sours into a hater and scorner of his kind.
The tyrant is altered, by the chastening of af.
fliction, into a pensive moralist. The veteran
general, distinguished by coolness, sagacity,
and self-command, sinks under a conflict be-
tween love, strong as death, and jealousy, cruel
as the grave. The brave and loyal subject
passes, step by step, to the extremities of hu-
man depravity. We trace his progress from
the first dawnings of unlawful ambition, to the
cynical melancholy of his impenitent remorse.
Yet, in these pieces, there are no unnatural
transitions. Nothing is omitted: nothing is
crowded. Great as are the changes, narrow
as is the compass within which they are exhi-
bited, they shock us as little as the gradual
alterations of those familiar faces which we
see every evening and every morning. The
magical skill of the poet resembles that of the
Dervise in the Spectator, who condensed all
the events of seven years into the single mo-
ment during which the king held his head
under the water.
It is deserving of remark, that at the time of
which we speak, the plays even of men not
eminently distinguished by genius—such, for
example, as Jonson—were far superior to the
best works of imagination in other depart-
ments. Therefore, though we conceive that,
from causes which we have already investi-
gated, our poetry must necessarily have de-
clined, we think that, unless its fate had been
accelerated by external attacks, it might have
“njoyed an euthanasia—that genius might have
heen kept alive by the drama till its place
could, in some degree, be supplied by taste—
that there would have been scarcely any in-

terval between the age of sublime invention and that of agreeable imitation. The works of Shakspeare, which were not appreciated with any degree of justice before the middle of the eighteenth century, might then have been the recognised standards of excellence during the latter part of the seventeenth; and he and the great Elizabethan writers might have been almost immediately succeeded by a generation of poets, similar to those who adorn our own times. But the Puritans drove imagination from its last asylum. They prohibited theatrical representations, and stigmatized the whole race of dramatists as enemies of morality and religion. Much that is objectionable may be found in the writers whom they reprobated; but whether they took the best measures for stopping the evil, appears to us very doubtful, and must, we think, have appeared doubtful to themselves, when, after the lapse of a few years, they saw the unclean spirit whom they had cast out, return to his old haunts, with seven others fouler than himself." By the extinction of the drama, the fashionable school of poetry—a school without truth of sentiment or harmony of versificationwithout the powers of an earlier or the correctness of a later age—was left to enjoy undisputed ascendency. A vicious ingenuity, a morbid quickness to perceive resemblances and analogies between things apparently heterogeneous, constituted almost its only claim to admiration. Suckling was dead. Milton was absorbed in political and "theological controversy. If Waller differed from the Cowleian sect of writers, he differed for the worse. He had as little poetry as they, and much less wit: nor is the languor of his verses less offensive than the ruggedness of theirs. In Denham alone the faint dawn of a better manner was discernible. But, low as was the state of our poetry during the civil war and the Protectorate, a still deeper fall was at hand. Hitherto our literature had been idiomatic. In mind as in situation, we had been islanders. The revolutions in our taste, like the revolutions in our government, had been settled without the interference of strangers. Had this state of things continued, the same just principles of reasoning, which, about this time, were applied with unprecedented success to every part of philosophy, would soon have conducted our ancestors to a sounder code of criticism. There were already strong signs of improve'ment. Our prose had at length worked itself clear from those quaint conceits which still deformed almost every metrical composition. The parliamentary debates and the diplomatic correspondence of that eventful period had contributed much to this reform. In such bustling times, it was absolutely necessary to speak and write to the purpose. The absurdities of Puritanism had, perhaps, done more. At the time when that odious style, which deforms the writings of Hall and of Lord Bacon, was almost universal, had appeared that stupendous work, the English Bible—a book which, if every thing else in our language | should perish, would alone suffice to show the

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