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be comprehended without much effort and explanation. A little, hard, sharp, legal mind will not readily forego the choice of weapons, or learn to enter into a new mood. And when once he had formed his judgment on Wordsworth's poetry Jeffrey did not despise the most vulgar and captious devices of the pleader or the reviewer to make the enemy ridiculous. One of the easiest and most popular of these is the method of comic summary, so much used by the average latter-day reviewer of novels. The Excursion does not depend for any part of its beauty or power on the story it tells. Let it therefore be implied that in this unessential feature the whole meaning of the work lies; that for this, and this alone, the poet challenges our attention and admiration. Here is all the account that Jeffrey gives of the Sixth Book of the Excursion :

"The Sixth contains a choice obituary, or characteristic account, of several of the persons who lie buried before this group of moralisers ;an unsuccessful lover, who had found consolation in natural history—a miner, who worked on for twenty years in despite of universal ridicule, and at last found the vein he had expected-two political enemies, reconciled in old age to each other-an old female miser-a seduced damseland two widowers, one who had devoted himself to the education of his daughters, and one who

had preferred marrying a prudent middle-aged woman to take care of them.'

"

His criticism of the White Doe of Rylstone, to which he devoted an article in October 1815, is rich in lessons for readers and critics of poetry. There are excuses to be made for Jeffrey; he was early in the field; to him Wordsworth was merely the most pretentious member of a new and paradoxical school of poetry; and, having read some previous poems by the same writer, he did not read, this time, with a mind susceptible to any favourable impression. His choicest sarcasm is to the effect that he does not understand what the poet means, which is true enough. And here, again, there are excuses to be made. The White Doe is not, in any obvious sense, a well-written poem. It would furnish some instances of obscure writing, some incidental weaknesses, and but few models of narration, to a handbook of rhetoric. The music of it is, for the most part, a music of thought; and the reader who refuses to think will find in it only a rambling and tedious story, where the commonest dramatic opportunities are missed. Yet to any one who has felt, even remotely, the strange elevation of thought and the lonely strength of emotion that uphold the poet throughout his dealings with this human agony, the comments of Jeffrey come like the noises of a street brawl breaking in

upon the performance of a grave and moving symphony.

So far as Wordsworth is concerned, nothing like this can happen again. The least sympathetic of readers, the flattest and vainest of critics, approaches a writer of acknowledged eminence in a spirit of caution; he modifies and temporises, and keeps open a line of retreat after his cleverest onslaughts. But a criticism that is valid only for settled causes is a worthless and vulgar criticism; it has nothing to say to a poet until he is accepted by the cultured mob. And Jeffrey's standard, "that eternal and universal standard of truth and nature which every one is knowing enough to recognise," has only to be adopted to ensure for the next new poet, as great and as novel in method as Wordsworth, the same reception, and for the first generation of his readers the same loss.

Is there any remedy or safeguard? The monkey and the parrot die hard in man; can they be taught to feel or to simulate modesty? It is they who foster the widespread belief that criticism is a kind of shorthand system, whereby right judgments, based on admitted principles, can be attained at the cost of infinitely less labour than was involved in the production of the work to be judged. Given that the principles are sound and sufficient, then, they argue, if there be no error of detail in the application, the result must be

valid. They overlook, however, one important element in the case. Poetry is original, or it is nothing. The admitted principles can never be sufficient to cover all the new cases that arise; if they were, there would be no reason why men of fair intellectual abilities should employ themselves in turning out goods to prescribed patterns. All poetry begins from the beginning; it creates its own world, and presents the eternally novel matter of experience in words that charm the ear of the simplest listener. Criticism must do the same; it must follow the poet, if he gives any token of being worth the following, step by step, recreating his experiences, hanging on his words, disciplining itself to the measure of his paces, believing in him and living with him, until, looking back on the way that it has been led, it shall be able to say whether the adventure is good and the goal worthy. There is no short cut to the end desired. Standards, eternal principles, formulas, summaries, and shibboleths, if they be substituted for the living experience, are obstacles and pitfalls. The poet, so far as he is a poet, accepts nothing on authority. The truths that he discovers have been discovered by many before him, but what makes them worth the communicating is that now he has discovered them again, reaching them, it may be, by a new track, but in any case by his own efforts, so that they come to him as the crown of his own

labours, and the fruit of his own sorrows and struggles and joys. And if the critic is to be a fit mediator between him and the home-staying public, he, too, must be an explorer, ready to follow where the other leads.

But what of the great critics, it may be asked, and is Aristotle not a pole-star for untried seas? We are deceived by industrial and scientific analogies, and expect too much from the men of old time. We cannot begin to read poetry where our fathers left off; we must begin where they began. The critic who, being himself a little man, attempts to raise himself on Aristotle is still a dwarf, and a maleficent dwarf. It is probable— it cannot be called certain—that Aristotle enjoyed the representation of Greek dramas. At least he enjoyed thinking about them; and his thoughts turned to the general conditions of poetic pleasure, and led him to frame some tentative laws explanatory of his own experiences. He could not foresee that he was arming every literary dunce in Europe, for many centuries, with weapons of outrage and offence. Like other great critics, he was an artist in science. An explanation was what he sought, an explanation which naturally assumed the existence of the thing to be explained. Pleasure in the Greek drama is now a rarer thing than once it was, but his explanation of it may still be used to decry other pleasures no less spontaneous and legitimate.

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