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Biographia Literaria by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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which is rhyme, or measure, or both, I must leave his opinion
uncontroverted. The distinction is at least competent to characterize
the writer's intention. If it were subjoined, that the whole is
likewise entertaining or affecting, as a tale, or as a series of
interesting reflections; I of course admit this as another fit
ingredient of a poem, and an additional merit. But if the definition
sought for be that of a legitimate poem, I answer, it must be one, the
parts of which mutually support and explain each other; all in their
proportion harmonizing with, and supporting the purpose and known
influences of metrical arrangement. The philosophic critics of all
ages coincide with the ultimate judgment of all countries, in equally
denying the praises of a just poem, on the one hand, to a series of
striking lines or distiches, each of which, absorbing the whole
attention of the reader to itself, becomes disjoined from its context,
and forms a separate whole, instead of a harmonizing part; and on the
other hand, to an unsustained composition, from which the reader
collects rapidly the general result unattracted by the component
parts. The reader should be carried forward, not merely or chiefly by
the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless desire to arrive
at the final solution; but by the pleasureable activity of mind
excited by the attractions of the journey itself. Like the motion of a
serpent, which the Egyptians made the emblem of intellectual power; or
like the path of sound through the air;--at every step he pauses and
half recedes; and from the retrogressive movement collects the force
which again carries him onward. Praecipitandus est liber spiritus,
says Petronius most happily. The epithet, liber, here balances the
preceding verb; and it is not easy to conceive more meaning condensed
in fewer words.

But if this should be admitted as a satisfactory character of a poem,
we have still to seek for a definition of poetry. The writings of
Plato, and Jeremy Taylor, and Burnet's Theory of the Earth, furnish
undeniable proofs that poetry of the highest kind may exist without
metre, and even without the contradistringuishing objects of a poem.
The first chapter of Isaiah--(indeed a very large portion of the whole
book)--is poetry in the most emphatic sense; yet it would be not less
irrational than strange to assert, that pleasure, and not truth was
the immediate object of the prophet. In short, whatever specific
import we attach to the word, Poetry, there will be found involved in
it, as a necessary consequence, that a poem of any length neither can
be, nor ought to be, all poetry. Yet if an harmonious whole is to be
produced, the remaining parts must be preserved in keeping with the
poetry; and this can be no otherwise effected than by such a studied
selection and artificial arrangement, as will partake of one, though
not a peculiar property of poetry. And this again can be no other than
the property of exciting a more continuous and equal attention than
the language of prose aims at, whether colloquial or written.

My own conclusions on the nature of poetry, in the strictest use of
the word, have been in part anticipated in some of the remarks on the
Fancy and Imagination in the early part of this work. What is poetry?
--is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet?--that the answer
to the one is involved in the solution of the other. For it is a
distinction resulting from the poetic genius itself, which sustains
and modifies the images, thoughts, and emotions of the poet's own

The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man
into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other
according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and
spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each,
by that synthetic and magical power, to which I would exclusively
appropriate the name of Imagination. This power, first put in action
by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive,
though gentle and unnoticed, control, laxis effertur habenis, reveals
"itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant"
qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general with the
concrete; the idea with the image; the individual with the
representative; the sense of novelty and freshness with old and
familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion with more than
usual order; judgment ever awake and steady self-possession with
enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and
harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to
nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to
our sympathy with the poetry. Doubtless, as Sir John Davies observes
of the soul--(and his words may with slight alteration be applied, and
even more appropriately, to the poetic Imagination)--

Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns
Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,
As fire converts to fire the things it burns,
As we our food into our nature change.

From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
And draws a kind of quintessence from things;
Which to her proper nature she transforms
To bear them light on her celestial wings.

Thus does she, when from individual states
She doth abstract the universal kinds;
Which then re-clothed in divers names and fates
Steal access through the senses to our minds.

Finally, Good Sense is the Body of poetic genius, Fancy its Drapery,
Motion its Life, and Imagination the Soul that is everywhere, and in
each; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.


The specific symptoms of poetic power elucidated in a critical
analysis of Shakespeare's VENUS AND ADONIS, and RAPE of LUCRECE.

In the application of these principles to purposes of practical
criticism, as employed in the appraisement of works more or less
imperfect, I have endeavoured to discover what the qualities in a poem
are, which may be deemed promises and specific symptoms of poetic
power, as distinguished from general talent determined to poetic
composition by accidental motives, by an act of the will, rather than
by the inspiration of a genial and productive nature. In this
investigation, I could not, I thought, do better, than keep before me
the earliest work of the greatest genius, that perhaps human nature
has yet produced, our myriad-minded [61] Shakespeare. I mean the VENUS
AND ADONIS, and the LUCRECE; works which give at once strong promises
of the strength, and yet obvious proofs of the immaturity, of his
genius. From these I abstracted the following marks, as
characteristics of original poetic genius in general.

1. In the VENUS AND ADONIS, the first and most obvious excellence is
the perfect sweetness of the versification; its adaptation to the
subject; and the power displayed in varying the march of the words
without passing into a loftier and more majestic rhythm than was
demanded by the thoughts, or permitted by the propriety of preserving
a sense of melody predominant. The delight in richness and sweetness
of sound, even to a faulty excess, if it be evidently original, and
not the result of an easily imitable mechanism, I regard as a highly
favourable promise in the compositions of a young man. The man that
hath not music in his soul can indeed never be a genuine poet.
Imagery,--(even taken from nature, much more when transplanted from
books, as travels, voyages, and works of natural history),--affecting
incidents, just thoughts, interesting personal or domestic feelings,
and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the
form of a poem,--may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade,
by a man of talent and much reading, who, as I once before observed,
has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural
poetic genius; the love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the
peculiar means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of
producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this together with the
power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a
series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be
cultivated and improved, but can never be learned. It is in these that
"poeta nascitur non fit."

2. A second promise of genius is the choice of subjects very remote
from the private interests and circumstances of the writer himself. At
least I have found, that where the subject is taken immediately from
the author's personal sensations and experiences, the excellence of a
particular poem is but an equivocal mark, and often a fallacious
pledge, of genuine poetic power. We may perhaps remember the tale of
the statuary, who had acquired considerable reputation for the legs of
his goddesses, though the rest of the statue accorded but
indifferently with ideal beauty; till his wife, elated by her
husband's praises, modestly acknowledged that she had been his
constant model. In the VENUS AND ADONIS this proof of poetic power
exists even to excess. It is throughout as if a superior spirit more
intuitive, more intimately conscious, even than the characters
themselves, not only of every outward look and act, but of the flux
and reflux of the mind in all its subtlest thoughts and feelings, were
placing the whole before our view; himself meanwhile unparticipating
in the passions, and actuated only by that pleasurable excitement,
which had resulted from the energetic fervour of his own spirit in so
vividly exhibiting what it had so accurately and profoundly
contemplated. I think, I should have conjectured from these poems,
that even then the great instinct, which impelled the poet to the
drama, was secretly working in him, prompting him--by a series and
never broken chain of imagery, always vivid and, because unbroken,
often minute; by the highest effort of the picturesque in words, of
which words are capable, higher perhaps than was ever realized by any
other poet, even Dante not excepted; to provide a substitute for that
visual language, that constant intervention and running comment by
tone, look and gesture, which in his dramatic works he was entitled to
expect from the players. His Venus and Adonis seem at once the
characters themselves, and the whole representation of those
characters by the most consummate actors. You seem to be told nothing,
but to see and hear everything. Hence it is, from the perpetual
activity of attention required on the part of the reader; from the
rapid flow, the quick change, and the playful nature of the thoughts
and images; and above all from the alienation, and, if I may hazard
such an expression, the utter aloofness of the poet's own feelings,
from those of which he is at once the painter and the analyst; that
though the very subject cannot but detract from the pleasure of a
delicate mind, yet never was poem less dangerous on a moral account.
Instead of doing as Ariosto, and as, still more offensively, Wieland
has done, instead of degrading and deforming passion into appetite,
the trials of love into the struggles of concupiscence; Shakespeare
has here represented the animal impulse itself, so as to preclude all
sympathy with it, by dissipating the reader's notice among the
thousand outward images, and now beautiful, now fanciful
circumstances, which form its dresses and its scenery; or by diverting
our attention from the main subject by those frequent witty or
profound reflections, which the poet's ever active mind has deduced
from, or connected with, the imagery and the incidents. The reader is
forced into too much action to sympathize with the merely passive of
our nature. As little can a mind thus roused and awakened be brooded
on by mean and indistinct emotion, as the low, lazy mist can creep
upon the surface of a lake, while a strong gale is driving it onward
in waves and billows.

3. It has been before observed that images, however beautiful, though
faithfully copied from nature, and as accurately represented in words,
do not of themselves characterize the poet. They become proofs of
original genius only as far as they are modified by a predominant
passion; or by associated thoughts or images awakened by that passion;
or when they have the effect of reducing multitude to unity, or
succession to an instant; or lastly, when a human and intellectual
life is transferred to them from the poet's own spirit,

Which shoots its being through earth, sea, and air.

In the two following lines for instance, there is nothing
objectionable, nothing which would preclude them from forming, in
their proper place, part of a descriptive poem:

Behold yon row of pines, that shorn and bow'd
Bend from the sea-blast, seen at twilight eve.

But with a small alteration of rhythm, the same words would be equally
in their place in a book of topography, or in a descriptive tour. The
same image will rise into semblance of poetry if thus conveyed:

Yon row of bleak and visionary pines,
By twilight glimpse discerned, mark! how they flee
From the fierce sea-blast, all their tresses wild
Streaming before them.

I have given this as an illustration, by no means as an instance, of
that particular excellence which I had in view, and in which
Shakespeare even in his earliest, as in his latest, works surpasses
all other poets. It is by this, that he still gives a dignity and a
passion to the objects which he presents. Unaided by any previous
excitement, they burst upon us at once in life and in power,--

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye."

"Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come--

* * * * * *
* * * * * *

The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assur'd,
And Peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since spite of him, I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes.
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants' crests, and tombs of brass are spent."

As of higher worth, so doubtless still more characteristic of poetic
genius does the imagery become, when it moulds and colours itself to
the circumstances, passion, or character, present and foremost in the
mind. For unrivalled instances of this excellence, the reader's own
memory will refer him to the LEAR, OTHELLO, in short to which not of
the "great, ever living, dead man's" dramatic works? Inopem em copia
fecit. How true it is to nature, he has himself finely expressed in
the instance of love in his 98th Sonnet.

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April drest in all its trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing;
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them, where they grew
Nor did I wonder at the lilies white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were, tho' sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem'd it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow, I with these did play!"

Scarcely less sure, or if a less valuable, not less indispensable mark

Gonimon men poiaetou------
------hostis rhaema gennaion lakoi,

will the imagery supply, when, with more than the power of the
painter, the poet gives us the liveliest image of succession with the
feeling of simultaneousness:--

With this, he breaketh from the sweet embrace
Of those fair arms, which bound him to her breast,
And homeward through the dark laund runs apace;--

* * * * * *

Look! how a bright star shooteth from the sky,
So glides he in the night from Venus' eye.

4. The last character I shall mention, which would prove indeed but
little, except as taken conjointly with the former;--yet without which
the former could scarce exist in a high degree, and (even if this were
possible) would give promises only of transitory flashes and a
meteoric power;--is depth, and energy of thought. No man was ever yet
a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher.
For poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge,
human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language. In Shakespeare's
poems the creative power and the intellectual energy wrestle as in a
war embrace. Each in its excess of strength seems to threaten the
extinction of the other. At length in the drama they were reconciled,
and fought each with its shield before the breast of the other. Or
like two rapid streams, that, at their first meeting within narrow and
rocky banks, mutually strive to repel each other and intermix
reluctantly and in tumult; but soon finding a wider channel and more
yielding shores blend, and dilate, and flow on in one current and with
one voice. The VENUS AND ADONIS did not perhaps allow the display of
the deeper passions. But the story of Lucretia seems to favour and
even demand their intensest workings. And yet we find in Shakespeare's
management of the tale neither pathos, nor any other dramatic quality.
There is the same minute and faithful imagery as in the former poem,
in the same vivid colours, inspirited by the same impetuous vigour of
thought, and diverging and contracting with the same activity of the
assimilative and of the modifying faculties; and with a yet larger
display, a yet wider range of knowledge and reflection; and lastly,
with the same perfect dominion, often domination, over the whole world
of language. What then shall we say? even this; that Shakespeare, no
mere child of nature; no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of
inspiration, possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied
patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge,
become habitual and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings,
and at length gave birth to that stupendous power, by which he stands
alone, with no equal or second in his own class; to that power which
seated him on one of the two glory-smitten summits of the poetic
mountain, with Milton as his compeer not rival. While the former darts
himself forth, and passes into all the forms of human character and
passion, the one Proteus of the fire and the flood; the other attracts
all forms and things to himself, into the unity of his own ideal. All
things and modes of action shape themselves anew in the being of
Milton; while Shakespeare becomes all things, yet for ever remaining
himself. O what great men hast thou not produced, England, my
country!--Truly indeed--

We must be free or die, who speak the tongue,
Which Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold,
Which Milton held. In everything we are sprung
Of earth's first blood, have titles manifold.


Striking points of difference between the Poets of the present age and
those of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries--Wish expressed for the
union of the characteristic merits of both.

Christendom, from its first settlement on feudal rights, has been so
far one great body, however imperfectly organized, that a similar
spirit will be found in each period to have been acting in all its
members. The study of Shakespeare's poems--(I do not include his
dramatic works, eminently as they too deserve that title)--led me to a
more careful examination of the contemporary poets both in England and
in other countries. But my attention was especially fixed on those of
Italy, from the birth to the death of Shakespeare; that being the
country in which the fine arts had been most sedulously, and hitherto
most successfully cultivated. Abstracted from the degrees and
peculiarities of individual genius, the properties common to the good
writers of each period seem to establish one striking point of
difference between the poetry of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, and that of the present age. The remark may perhaps be
extended to the sister art of painting. At least the latter will serve
to illustrate the former. In the present age the poet--(I would wish
to be understood as speaking generally, and without allusion to
individual names)--seems to propose to himself as his main object, and
as that which is the most characteristic of his art, new and striking
images; with incidents that interest the affections or excite the
curiosity. Both his characters and his descriptions he renders, as
much as possible, specific and individual, even to a degree of
portraiture. In his diction and metre, on the other hand, he is
comparatively careless. The measure is either constructed on no
previous system, and acknowledges no justifying principle but that of
the writer's convenience; or else some mechanical movement is adopted,
of which one couplet or stanza is so far an adequate specimen, as that
the occasional differences appear evidently to arise from accident, or
the qualities of the language itself, not from meditation and an
intelligent purpose. And the language from Pope's translation of
Homer, to Darwin's Temple of Nature [62], may, notwithstanding some
illustrious exceptions, be too faithfully characterized, as claiming
to be poetical for no better reason, than that it would be intolerable
in conversation or in prose. Though alas! even our prose writings, nay
even the style of our more set discourses, strive to be in the
fashion, and trick themselves out in the soiled and over-worn finery
of the meretricious muse. It is true that of late a great improvement
in this respect is observable in our most popular writers. But it is
equally true, that this recurrence to plain sense and genuine mother
English is far from being general; and that the composition of our
novels, magazines, public harangues, and the like is commonly as
trivial in thought, and yet enigmatic in expression, as if Echo and
Sphinx had laid their heads together to construct it. Nay, even of
those who have most rescued themselves from this contagion, I should
plead inwardly guilty to the charge of duplicity or cowardice, if I
withheld my conviction, that few have guarded the purity of their
native tongue with that jealous care, which the sublime Dante in his
tract De la volgare Eloquenza, declares to be the first duty of a
poet. For language is the armoury of the human mind; and at once
contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future
conquests. Animadverte, says Hobbes, quam sit ab improprietate
verborum pronum hominihus prolabi in errores circa ipsas res! Sat
[vero], says Sennertus, in hac vitae brevitate et naturae obscuritate,
rerum est, quibus cognoscendis tempus impendatur, ut [confusis et
multivotis] sermonibus intelligendis illud consumere opus non sit.
[Eheu! quantas strages paravere verba nubila, quae tot dicunt ut nihil
dicunt;--nubes potius, e quibus et in rebus politicis et in ecclesia
turbines et tonitrua erumpunt!] Et proinde recte dictum putamus a
Platone in Gorgia: os an ta onomata eidei, eisetai kai ta pragmata: et
ab Epicteto, archae paideuseos hae ton onomaton episkepsis: et
prudentissime Galenus scribit, hae ton onomaton chraesis tarachtheisa
kai taen ton pragmaton epitarattei gnosin.

Egregie vero J. C. Scaliger, in Lib. I. de Plantis: Est primum,
inquit, sapientis officium, bene sentire, ut sibi vivat: proximum,
bene loqui, ut patriae vivat.

Something analogous to the materials and structure of modern poetry I
seem to have noticed--(but here I beg to be understood as speaking
with the utmost diffidence)--in our common landscape painters. Their
foregrounds and intermediate distances are comparatively unattractive:
while the main interest of the landscape is thrown into the
background, where mountains and torrents and castles forbid the eye to
proceed, and nothing tempts it to trace its way back again. But in the
works of the great Italian and Flemish masters, the front and middle
objects of the landscape are the most obvious and determinate, the
interest gradually dies away in the background, and the charm and
peculiar worth of the picture consists, not so much in the specific
objects which it conveys to the understanding in a visual language
formed by the substitution of figures for words, as in the beauty and
harmony of the colours, lines, and expression, with which the objects
are represented. Hence novelty of subject was rather avoided than
sought for. Superior excellence in the manner of treating the same
subjects was the trial and test of the artist's merit.

Not otherwise is it with the more polished poets of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, especially those of Italy. The imagery is almost
always general: sun, moon, flowers, breezes, murmuring streams,
warbling songsters, delicious shades, lovely damsels cruel as fair,
nymphs, naiads, and goddesses, are the materials which are common to
all, and which each shaped and arranged according to his judgment or
fancy, little solicitous to add or to particularize. If we make an
honourable exception in favour of some English poets, the thoughts too
are as little novel as the images; and the fable of their narrative
poems, for the most part drawn from mythology, or sources of equal
notoriety, derive their chief attractions from the manner of treating
them; from impassioned flow, or picturesque arrangement. In opposition
to the present age, and perhaps in as faulty an extreme, they placed
the essence of poetry in the art. The excellence, at which they aimed,
consisted in the exquisite polish of the diction, combined with
perfect simplicity. This their prime object they attained by the
avoidance of every word, which a gentleman would not use in dignified
conversation, and of every word and phrase, which none but a learned
man would use; by the studied position of words and phrases, so that
not only each part should be melodious in itself, but contribute to
the harmony of the whole, each note referring and conducting to the
melody of all the foregoing and following words of the same period or
stanza; and lastly with equal labour, the greater because unbetrayed,
by the variation and various harmonies of their metrical movement.
Their measures, however, were not indebted for their variety to the
introduction of new metres, such as have been attempted of late in the
Alonzo and Imogen, and others borrowed from the German, having in
their very mechanism a specific overpowering tune, to which the
generous reader humours his voice and emphasis, with more indulgence
to the author than attention to the meaning or quantity of the words;
but which, to an ear familiar with the numerous sounds of the Greek
and Roman poets, has an effect not unlike that of galloping over a
paved road in a German stage-waggon without springs. On the contrary,
the elder bards both of Italy and England produced a far greater as
well as more charming variety by countless modifications, and subtle
balances of sound in the common metres of their country. A lasting and
enviable reputation awaits that man of genius, who should attempt and
realize a union;--who should recall the high finish, the
appropriateness, the facility, the delicate proportion, and above all,
the perfusive and omnipresent grace, which have preserved, as in a
shrine of precious amber, the Sparrow of Catullus, the Swallow, the
Grasshopper, and all the other little loves of Anacreon; and which,
with bright, though diminished glories, revisited the youth and early
manhood of Christian Europe, in the vales of [63] Arno, and the groves
of Isis and of Cam; and who with these should combine the keener
interest, deeper pathos, manlier reflection, and the fresher and more
various imagery, which give a value and a name that will not pass away
to the poets who have done honour to our own times, and to those of
our immediate predecessors.


Examination of the tenets peculiar to Mr. Wordsworth--Rustic life
(above all, low and rustic life) especially unfavourable to the
formation of a human diction--The best parts of language the product
of philosophers, not of clowns or shepherds--Poetry essentially ideal
and generic--The language of Milton as much the language of real life,
yea, incomparably more so than that of the cottager.

As far then as Mr. Wordsworth in his preface contended, and most ably
contended, for a reformation in our poetic diction, as far as he has
evinced the truth of passion, and the dramatic propriety of those
figures and metaphors in the original poets, which, stripped of their
justifying reasons, and converted into mere artifices of connection or
ornament, constitute the characteristic falsity in the poetic style of
the moderns; and as far as he has, with equal acuteness and clearness,
pointed out the process by which this change was effected, and the
resemblances between that state into which the reader's mind is thrown
by the pleasurable confusion of thought from an unaccustomed train of
words and images; and that state which is induced by the natural
language of impassioned feeling; he undertook a useful task, and
deserves all praise, both for the attempt and for the execution. The
provocations to this remonstrance in behalf of truth and nature were
still of perpetual recurrence before and after the publication of this
preface. I cannot likewise but add, that the comparison of such poems
of merit, as have been given to the public within the last ten or
twelve years, with the majority of those produced previously to the
appearance of that preface, leave no doubt on my mind, that Mr.
Wordsworth is fully justified in believing his efforts to have been by
no means ineffectual. Not only in the verses of those who have
professed their admiration of his genius, but even of those who have
distinguished themselves by hostility to his theory, and depreciation
of his writings, are the impressions of his principles plainly
visible. It is possible, that with these principles others may have
been blended, which are not equally evident; and some which are
unsteady and subvertible from the narrowness or imperfection of their
basis. But it is more than possible, that these errors of defect or
exaggeration, by kindling and feeding the controversy, may have
conduced not only to the wider propagation of the accompanying truths,
but that, by their frequent presentation to the mind in an excited
state, they may have won for them a more permanent and practical
result. A man will borrow a part from his opponent the more easily, if
he feels himself justified in continuing to reject a part. While there
remain important points in which he can still feel himself in the
right, in which he still finds firm footing for continued resistance,
he will gradually adopt those opinions, which were the least remote
from his own convictions, as not less congruous with his own theory
than with that which he reprobates. In like manner with a kind of
instinctive prudence, he will abandon by little and little his weakest
posts, till at length he seems to forget that they had ever belonged
to him, or affects to consider them at most as accidental and "petty
annexments," the removal of which leaves the citadel unhurt and

My own differences from certain supposed parts of Mr. Wordsworth's
theory ground themselves on the assumption, that his words had been
rightly interpreted, as purporting that the proper diction for poetry
in general consists altogether in a language taken, with due
exceptions, from the mouths of men in real life, a language which
actually constitutes the natural conversation of men under the
influence of natural feelings. My objection is, first, that in any
sense this rule is applicable only to certain classes of poetry;
secondly, that even to these classes it is not applicable, except in
such a sense, as hath never by any one (as far as I know or have
read,) been denied or doubted; and lastly, that as far as, and in that
degree in which it is practicable, it is yet as a rule useless, if not
injurious, and therefore either need not, or ought not to be
practised. The poet informs his reader, that he had generally chosen
low and rustic life; but not as low and rustic, or in order to repeat
that pleasure of doubtful moral effect, which persons of elevated rank
and of superior refinement oftentimes derive from a happy imitation of
the rude unpolished manners and discourse of their inferiors. For the
pleasure so derived may be traced to three exciting causes. The first
is the naturalness, in fact, of the things represented. The second is
the apparent naturalness of the representation, as raised and
qualified by an imperceptible infusion of the author's own knowledge
and talent, which infusion does, indeed, constitute it an imitation as
distinguished from a mere copy. The third cause may be found in the
reader's conscious feeling of his superiority awakened by the contrast
presented to him; even as for the same purpose the kings and great
barons of yore retained, sometimes actual clowns and fools, but more
frequently shrewd and witty fellows in that character. These, however,
were not Mr. Wordsworth's objects. He chose low and rustic life,
"because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a
better soil, in which they can attain their maturity, are less under
restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in
that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of
greater simplicity, and consequently may be more accurately
contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of
rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and from the
necessary character of rural occupations are more easily comprehended,
and are more durable; and lastly, because in that condition the
passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent
forms of nature."

Now it is clear to me, that in the most interesting of the poems, in
which the author is more or less dramatic, as THE BROTHERS, MICHAEL,
RUTH, THE MAD MOTHER, and others, the persons introduced are by no
means taken from low or rustic life in the common acceptation of those
words! and it is not less clear, that the sentiments and language, as
far as they can be conceived to have been really transferred from the
minds and conversation of such persons, are attributable to causes and
circumstances not necessarily connected with "their occupations and
abode." The thoughts, feelings, language, and manners of the shepherd-
farmers in the vales of Cumberland and Westmoreland, as far as they
are actually adopted in those poems, may be accounted for from causes,
which will and do produce the same results in every state of life,
whether in town or country. As the two principal I rank that
independence, which raises a man above servitude, or daily toil for
the profit of others, yet not above the necessity of industry and a
frugal simplicity of domestic life; and the accompanying unambitious,
but solid and religious, education, which has rendered few books
familiar, but the Bible, and the Liturgy or Hymn book. To this latter
cause, indeed, which is so far accidental, that it is the blessing of
particular countries and a particular age, not the product of
particular places or employments, the poet owes the show of
probability, that his personages might really feel, think, and talk
with any tolerable resemblance to his representation. It is an
excellent remark of Dr. Henry More's, that "a man of confined
education, but of good parts, by constant reading of the Bible will
naturally form a more winning and commanding rhetoric than those that
are learned: the intermixture of tongues and of artificial phrases
debasing their style."

It is, moreover, to be considered that to the formation of healthy
feelings, and a reflecting mind, negations involve impediments not
less formidable than sophistication and vicious intermixture. I am
convinced, that for the human soul to prosper in rustic life a certain
vantage-ground is prerequisite. It is not every man that is likely to
be improved by a country life or by country labours. Education, or
original sensibility, or both, must pre-exist, if the changes, forms,
and incidents of nature are to prove a sufficient stimulant. And where
these are not sufficient, the mind contracts and hardens by want of
stimulants: and the man becomes selfish, sensual, gross, and hard-
hearted. Let the management of the Poor Laws in Liverpool, Manchester,
or Bristol be compared with the ordinary dispensation of the poor
rates in agricultural villages, where the farmers are the overseers
and guardians of the poor. If my own experience have not been
particularly unfortunate, as well as that of the many respectable
country clergymen with whom I have conversed on the subject, the
result would engender more than scepticism concerning the desirable
influences of low and rustic life in and for itself. Whatever may be
concluded on the other side, from the stronger local attachments and
enterprising spirit of the Swiss, and other mountaineers, applies to a
particular mode of pastoral life, under forms of property that permit
and beget manners truly republican, not to rustic life in general, or
to the absence of artificial cultivation. On the contrary the
mountaineers, whose manners have been so often eulogized, are in
general better educated and greater readers than men of equal rank
elsewhere. But where this is not the case, as among the peasantry of
North Wales, the ancient mountains, with all their terrors and all
their glories, are pictures to the blind, and music to the deaf.

I should not have entered so much into detail upon this passage, but
here seems to be the point, to which all the lines of difference
converge as to their source and centre;--I mean, as far as, and in
whatever respect, my poetic creed does differ from the doctrines
promulgated in this preface. I adopt with full faith, the principle of
Aristotle, that poetry, as poetry, is essentially ideal, that it
avoids and excludes all accident; that its apparent individualities of
rank, character, or occupation must be representative of a class; and
that the persons of poetry must be clothed with generic attributes,
with the common attributes of the class: not with such as one gifted
individual might possibly possess, but such as from his situation it
is most probable before-hand that he would possess. If my premises are
right and my deductions legitimate, it follows that there can be no
poetic medium between the swains of Theocritus and those of an
imaginary golden age.

The characters of the vicar and the shepherd-mariner in the poem of
THE BROTHERS, and that of the shepherd of Green-head Ghyll in the
MICHAEL, have all the verisimilitude and representative quality, that
the purposes of poetry can require. They are persons of a known and
abiding class, and their manners and sentiments the natural product of
circumstances common to the class. Take Michael for instance:

An old man stout of heart, and strong of limb.
His bodily frame had been from youth to age
Of an unusual strength: his mind was keen,
Intense, and frugal, apt for all affairs,
And in his shepherd's calling he was prompt
And watchful more than ordinary men.
Hence he had learned the meaning of all winds,
Of blasts of every tone; and oftentimes
When others heeded not, He heard the South
Make subterraneous music, like the noise
Of bagpipers on distant Highland hills.
The Shepherd, at such warning, of his flock
Bethought him, and he to himself would say,
`The winds are now devising work for me!'
And truly, at all times, the storm, that drives
The traveller to a shelter, summoned him
Up to the mountains: he had been alone
Amid the heart of many thousand mists,
That came to him and left him on the heights.
So lived he, until his eightieth year was past.
And grossly that man errs, who should suppose
That the green valleys, and the streams and rocks,
Were things indifferent to the Shepherd's thoughts.
Fields, where with cheerful spirits he had breathed
The common air; the hills, which he so oft
Had climbed with vigorous steps; which had impressed
So many incidents upon his mind
Of hardship, skill or courage, joy or fear;
Which, like a book, preserved the memory
Of the dumb animals, whom he had saved,
Had fed or sheltered, linking to such acts,
So grateful in themselves, the certainty
Of honourable gain; these fields, these hills
Which were his living Being, even more
Than his own blood--what could they less? had laid
Strong hold on his affections, were to him
A pleasurable feeling of blind love,
The pleasure which there is in life itself.

On the other hand, in the poems which are pitched in a lower key, as
the HARRY GILL, and THE IDIOT BOY, the feelings are those of human
nature in general; though the poet has judiciously laid the scene in
the country, in order to place himself in the vicinity of interesting
images, without the necessity of ascribing a sentimental perception of
their beauty to the persons of his drama. In THE IDIOT BOY, indeed,
the mother's character is not so much the real and native product of a
"situation where the essential passions of the heart find a better
soil, in which they can attain their maturity and speak a plainer and
more emphatic language," as it is an impersonation of an instinct
abandoned by judgment. Hence the two following charges seem to me not
wholly groundless: at least, they are the only plausible objections,
which I have heard to that fine poem. The one is, that the author has
not, in the poem itself, taken sufficient care to preclude from the
reader's fancy the disgusting images of ordinary morbid idiocy, which
yet it was by no means his intention to represent. He was even by the
"burr, burr, burr," uncounteracted by any preceding description of the
boy's beauty, assisted in recalling them. The other is, that the
idiocy of the boy is so evenly balanced by the folly of the mother, as
to present to the general reader rather a laughable burlesque on the
blindness of anile dotage, than an analytic display of maternal
affection in its ordinary workings.

In THE THORN, the poet himself acknowledges in a note the necessity of
an introductory poem, in which he should have portrayed the character
of the person from whom the words of the poem are supposed to proceed:
a superstitious man moderately imaginative, of slow faculties and deep
feelings, "a captain of a small trading vessel, for example, who,
being past the middle age of life, had retired upon an annuity, or
small independent income, to some village or country town of which he
was not a native, or in which he had not been accustomed to live. Such
men having nothing to do become credulous and talkative from
indolence." But in a poem, still more in a lyric poem--and the Nurse
in ROMEO AND JULIET alone prevents me from extending the remark even
to dramatic poetry, if indeed even the Nurse can be deemed altogether
a case in point--it is not possible to imitate truly a dull and
garrulous discourser, without repeating the effects of dullness and
garrulity. However this may be, I dare assert, that the parts--(and
these form the far larger portion of the whole)--which might as well
or still better have proceeded from the poet's own imagination, and
have been spoken in his own character, are those which have given, and
which will continue to give, universal delight; and that the passages
exclusively appropriate to the supposed narrator, such as the last
couplet of the third stanza [64]; the seven last lines of the tenth
[65]; and the five following stanzas, with the exception of the four
admirable lines at the commencement of the fourteenth, are felt by
many unprejudiced and unsophisticated hearts, as sudden and unpleasant
sinkings from the height to which the poet had previously lifted them,
and to which he again re-elevates both himself and his reader.

If then I am compelled to doubt the theory, by which the choice of
characters was to be directed, not only a priori, from grounds of
reason, but both from the few instances in which the poet himself need
be supposed to have been governed by it, and from the comparative
inferiority of those instances; still more must I hesitate in my
assent to the sentence which immediately follows the former citation;
and which I can neither admit as particular fact, nor as general rule.
"The language, too, of these men has been adopted (purified indeed
from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational
causes of dislike or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with
the best objects from which the best part of language is originally
derived; and because, from their rank in society and the sameness and
narrow circle of their intercourse, being less under the action of
social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and
unelaborated expressions." To this I reply; that a rustic's language,
purified from all provincialism and grossness, and so far
reconstructed as to be made consistent with the rules of grammar--
(which are in essence no other than the laws of universal logic,
applied to psychological materials)--will not differ from the language
of any other man of common sense, however learned or refined he may
be, except as far as the notions, which the rustic has to convey, are
fewer and more indiscriminate. This will become still clearer, if we
add the consideration--(equally important though less obvious)--that
the rustic, from the more imperfect development of his faculties, and
from the lower state of their cultivation, aims almost solely to
convey insulated facts, either those of his scanty experience or his
traditional belief; while the educated man chiefly seeks to discover
and express those connections of things, or those relative bearings of
fact to fact, from which some more or less general law is deducible.
For facts are valuable to a wise man, chiefly as they lead to the
discovery of the indwelling law, which is the true being of things,
the sole solution of their modes of existence, and in the knowledge of
which consists our dignity and our power.

As little can I agree with the assertion, that from the objects with
which the rustic hourly communicates the best part of language is
formed. For first, if to communicate with an object implies such an
acquaintance with it, as renders it capable of being discriminately
reflected on, the distinct knowledge of an uneducated rustic would
furnish a very scanty vocabulary. The few things and modes of action
requisite for his bodily conveniences would alone be individualized;
while all the rest of nature would be expressed by a small number of
confused general terms. Secondly, I deny that the words and
combinations of words derived from the objects, with which the rustic
is familiar, whether with distinct or confused knowledge, can be
justly said to form the best part of language. It is more than
probable, that many classes of the brute creation possess
discriminating sounds, by which they can convey to each other notices
of such objects as concern their food, shelter, or safety. Yet we
hesitate to call the aggregate of such sounds a language, otherwise
than metaphorically. The best part of human language, properly so
called, is derived from reflection on the acts of the mind itself. It
is formed by a voluntary appropriation of fixed symbols to internal
acts, to processes and results of imagination, the greater part of
which have no place in the consciousness of uneducated man; though in
civilized society, by imitation and passive remembrance of what they
hear from their religious instructors and other superiors, the most
uneducated share in the harvest which they neither sowed, nor reaped.
If the history of the phrases in hourly currency among our peasants
were traced, a person not previously aware of the fact would be
surprised at finding so large a number, which three or four centuries
ago were the exclusive property of the universities and the schools;
and, at the commencement of the Reformation, had been transferred from
the school to the pulpit, and thus gradually passed into common life.
The extreme difficulty, and often the impossibility, of finding words
for the simplest moral and intellectual processes of the languages of
uncivilized tribes has proved perhaps the weightiest obstacle to the
progress of our most zealous and adroit missionaries. Yet these tribes
are surrounded by the same nature as our peasants are; but in still
more impressive forms; and they are, moreover, obliged to
particularize many more of them. When, therefore, Mr. Wordsworth adds,
"accordingly, such a language"--(meaning, as before, the language of
rustic life purified from provincialism)--"arising out of repeated
experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more
philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for
it by Poets, who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves
and their art in proportion as they indulge in arbitrary and
capricious habits of expression;" it may be answered, that the
language, which he has in view, can be attributed to rustics with no
greater right, than the style of Hooker or Bacon to Tom Brown or Sir
Roger L'Estrange. Doubtless, if what is peculiar to each were omitted
in each, the result must needs be the same. Further, that the poet,
who uses an illogical diction, or a style fitted to excite only the
low and changeable pleasure of wonder by means of groundless novelty,
substitutes a language of folly and vanity, not for that of the
rustic, but for that of good sense and natural feeling.

Here let me be permitted to remind the reader, that the positions,
which I controvert, are contained in the sentences--"a selection of
the real language of men;"--"the language of these men" (that is, men
in low and rustic life) "has been adopted; I have proposed to myself
to imitate, and, as far as is possible, to adopt the very language of

"Between the language of prose and that of metrical composition, there
neither is, nor can be, any essential difference:" it is against these
exclusively that my opposition is directed.

I object, in the very first instance, to an equivocation in the use of
the word "real." Every man's language varies, according to the extent
of his knowledge, the activity of his faculties, and the depth or
quickness of his feelings. Every man's language has, first, its
individualities; secondly, the common properties of the class to which
he belongs; and thirdly, words and phrases of universal use. The
language of Hooker, Bacon, Bishop Taylor, and Burke differs from the
common language of the learned class only by the superior number and
novelty of the thoughts and relations which they had to convey. The
language of Algernon Sidney differs not at all from that, which every
well-educated gentleman would wish to write, and (with due allowances
for the undeliberateness, and less connected train, of thinking
natural and proper to conversation) such as he would wish to talk.
Neither one nor the other differ half as much from the general
language of cultivated society, as the language of Mr. Wordsworth's
homeliest composition differs from that of a common peasant. For
"real" therefore, we must substitute ordinary, or lingua communis. And
this, we have proved, is no more to be found in the phraseology of low
and rustic life than in that of any other class. Omit the
peculiarities of each and the result of course must be common to all.
And assuredly the omissions and changes to be made in the language of
rustics, before it could be transferred to any species of poem, except
the drama or other professed imitation, are at least as numerous and
weighty, as would be required in adapting to the same purpose the
ordinary language of tradesmen and manufacturers. Not to mention, that
the language so highly extolled by Mr. Wordsworth varies in every
county, nay in every village, according to the accidental character of
the clergyman, the existence or non-existence of schools; or even,
perhaps, as the exciteman, publican, and barber happen to be, or not
to be, zealous politicians, and readers of the weekly newspaper pro
bono publico. Anterior to cultivation the lingua communis of every
country, as Dante has well observed, exists every where in parts, and
no where as a whole.

Neither is the case rendered at all more tenable by the addition of
the words, "in a state of excitement." For the nature of a man's
words, where he is strongly affected by joy, grief, or anger, must
necessarily depend on the number and quality of the general truths,
conceptions and images, and of the words expressing them, with which
his mind had been previously stored. For the property of passion is
not to create; but to set in increased activity. At least, whatever
new connections of thoughts or images, or --(which is equally, if not
more than equally, the appropriate effect of strong excitement)--
whatever generalizations of truth or experience the heat of passion
may produce; yet the terms of their conveyance must have pre-existed
in his former conversations, and are only collected and crowded
together by the unusual stimulation. It is indeed very possible to
adopt in a poem the unmeaning repetitions, habitual phrases, and other
blank counters, which an unfurnished or confused understanding
interposes at short intervals, in order to keep hold of his subject,
which is still slipping from him, and to give him time for
recollection; or, in mere aid of vacancy, as in the scanty companies
of a country stage the same player pops backwards and forwards, in
order to prevent the appearance of empty spaces, in the procession of
Macbeth, or Henry VIII. But what assistance to the poet, or ornament
to the poem, these can supply, I am at a loss to conjecture. Nothing
assuredly can differ either in origin or in mode more widely from the
apparent tautologies of intense and turbulent feeling, in which the
passion is greater and of longer endurance than to be exhausted or
satisfied by a single representation of the image or incident exciting
it. Such repetitions I admit to be a beauty of the highest kind; as
illustrated by Mr. Wordsworth himself from the song of Deborah. At her
feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell:
where he bowed, there he fell down dead. Judges v. 27.


Language of metrical composition, why and wherein essentially
different from that of prose--Origin and elements of metre--Its
necessary consequences, and the conditions thereby imposed on the
metrical writer in the choice of his diction.

I conclude, therefore, that the attempt is impracticable; and that,
were it not impracticable, it would still be useless. For the very
power of making the selection implies the previous possession of the
language selected. Or where can the poet have lived? And by what rules
could he direct his choice, which would not have enabled him to select
and arrange his words by the light of his own judgment? We do not
adopt the language of a class by the mere adoption of such words
exclusively, as that class would use, or at least understand; but
likewise by following the order, in which the words of such men are
wont to succeed each other. Now this order, in the intercourse of
uneducated men, is distinguished from the diction of their superiors
in knowledge and power, by the greater disjunction and separation in
the component parts of that, whatever it be, which they wish to
communicate. There is a want of that prospectiveness of mind, that
surview, which enables a man to foresee the whole of what he is to
convey, appertaining to any one point; and by this means so to
subordinate and arrange the different parts according to their
relative importance, as to convey it at once, and as an organized

Now I will take the first stanza, on which I have chanced to open, in
the Lyrical Ballads. It is one the most simple and the least peculiar
in its language.

"In distant countries have I been,
And yet I have not often seen
A healthy man, a man full grown,
Weep in the public roads, alone.
But such a one, on English ground,
And in the broad highway, I met;
Along the broad highway he came,
His cheeks with tears were wet
Sturdy he seemed, though he was sad;
And in his arms a lamb he had."

The words here are doubtless such as are current in all ranks of life;
and of course not less so in the hamlet and cottage than in the shop,
manufactory, college, or palace. But is this the order, in which the
rustic would have placed the words? I am grievously deceived, if the
following less compact mode of commencing the same tale be not a far
more faithful copy. "I have been in a many parts, far and near, and I
don't know that I ever saw before a man crying by himself in the
public road; a grown man I mean, that was neither sick nor hurt,"
etc., etc. But when I turn to the following stanza in The Thorn:

"At all times of the day and night
This wretched woman thither goes;
And she is known to every star,
And every wind that blows
And there, beside the Thorn, she sits,
When the blue day-light's in the skies,
And when the whirlwind's on the hill,
Or frosty air is keen and still,
And to herself she cries,
Oh misery! Oh misery!
Oh woe is me! Oh misery!"

and compare this with the language of ordinary men; or with that which
I can conceive at all likely to proceed, in real life, from such a
narrator, as is supposed in the note to the poem; compare it either in
the succession of the images or of the sentences; I am reminded of the
sublime prayer and hymn of praise, which Milton, in opposition to an
established liturgy, presents as a fair specimen of common extemporary
devotion, and such as we might expect to hear from every self-inspired
minister of a conventicle! And I reflect with delight, how little a
mere theory, though of his own workmanship, interferes with the
processes of genuine imagination in a man of true poetic genius, who
possesses, as Mr. Wordsworth, if ever man did, most assuredly does

"The Vision and the Faculty divine."

One point then alone remains, but that the most important; its
examination having been, indeed, my chief inducement for the preceding
inquisition. "There neither is nor can be any essential difference
between the language of prose and metrical composition." Such is Mr.
Wordsworth's assertion. Now prose itself, at least in all
argumentative and consecutive works, differs, and ought to differ,
from the language of conversation; even as [66] reading ought to
differ from talking. Unless therefore the difference denied be that of
the mere words, as materials common to all styles of writing, and not
of the style itself in the universally admitted sense of the term, it
might be naturally presumed that there must exist a still greater
between the ordonnance of poetic composition and that of prose, than
is expected to distinguish prose from ordinary conversation.

There are not, indeed, examples wanting in the history of literature,
of apparent paradoxes that have summoned the public wonder as new and
startling truths, but which, on examination, have shrunk into tame and
harmless truisms; as the eyes of a cat, seen in the dark, have been
mistaken for flames of fire. But Mr. Wordsworth is among the last men,
to whom a delusion of this kind would be attributed by anyone, who had
enjoyed the slightest opportunity of understanding his mind and
character. Where an objection has been anticipated by such an author
as natural, his answer to it must needs be interpreted in some sense
which either is, or has been, or is capable of being controverted. My
object then must be to discover some other meaning for the term
"essential difference" in this place, exclusive of the indistinction
and community of the words themselves. For whether there ought to
exist a class of words in the English, in any degree resembling the
poetic dialect of the Greek and Italian, is a question of very
subordinate importance. The number of such words would be small
indeed, in our language; and even in the Italian and Greek, they
consist not so much of different words, as of slight differences in
the forms of declining and conjugating the same words; forms,
doubtless, which having been, at some period more or less remote, the
common grammatic flexions of some tribe or province, had been
accidentally appropriated to poetry by the general admiration of
certain master intellects, the first established lights of
inspiration, to whom that dialect happened to be native.

Essence, in its primary signification, means the principle of
individuation, the inmost principle of the possibility of any thing,
as that particular thing. It is equivalent to the idea of a thing,
whenever we use the word, idea, with philosophic precision. Existence,
on the other hand, is distinguished from essence, by the
superinduction of reality. Thus we speak of the essence, and essential
properties of a circle; but we do not therefore assert, that any
thing, which really exists, is mathematically circular. Thus too,
without any tautology we contend for the existence of the Supreme
Being; that is, for a reality correspondent to the idea. There is,
next, a secondary use of the word essence, in which it signifies the
point or ground of contra-distinction between two modifications of the
same substance or subject. Thus we should be allowed to say, that the
style of architecture of Westminster Abbey is essentially different
from that of St. Paul, even though both had been built with blocks cut
into the same form, and from the same quarry. Only in this latter
sense of the term must it have been denied by Mr. Wordsworth (for in
this sense alone is it affirmed by the general opinion) that the
language of poetry (that is the formal construction, or architecture,
of the words and phrases) is essentially different from that of prose.
Now the burden of the proof lies with the oppugner, not with the
supporters of the common belief. Mr. Wordsworth, in consequence,
assigns as the proof of his position, "that not only the language of a
large portion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character,
must necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect
differ from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the most
interesting parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the
language of prose, when prose is well written. The truth of this
assertion might be demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost
all the poetical writings, even of Milton himself." He then quotes
Gray's sonnet--

"In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire;
The birds in vain their amorous descant join,
Or cheerful fields resume their green attire.
These ears, alas! for other notes repine;
_A different object do these eyes require;
My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire._
Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
And new-born pleasure brings to happier men;
The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
To warm their little loves the birds complain:
_I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,
And weep the more, because I weep in vain."_

and adds the following remark:--"It will easily be perceived, that the
only part of this Sonnet which is of any value, is the lines printed
in italics; it is equally obvious, that, except in the rhyme, and in
the use of the single word `fruitless' for fruitlessly, which is so
far a defect, the language of these lines does in no respect differ
from that of prose."

An idealist defending his system by the fact, that when asleep we
often believe ourselves awake, was well answered by his plain
neighbour, "Ah, but when awake do we ever believe ourselves asleep?"
Things identical must be convertible. The preceding passage seems to
rest on a similar sophism. For the question is not, whether there may
not occur in prose an order of words, which would be equally proper in
a poem; nor whether there are not beautiful lines and sentences of
frequent occurrence in good poems, which would be equally becoming as
well as beautiful in good prose; for neither the one nor the other has
ever been either denied or doubted by any one. The true question must
be, whether there are not modes of expression, a construction, and an
order of sentences, which are in their fit and natural place in a
serious prose composition, but would be disproportionate and
heterogeneous in metrical poetry; and, vice versa, whether in the
language of a serious poem there may not be an arrangement both of
words and sentences, and a use and selection of (what are called)
figures of speech, both as to their kind, their frequency, and their
occasions, which on a subject of equal weight would be vicious and
alien in correct and manly prose. I contend, that in both cases this
unfitness of each for the place of the other frequently will and ought
to exist.

And first from the origin of metre. This I would trace to the balance
in the mind effected by that spontaneous effort which strives to hold
in check the workings of passion. It might be easily explained
likewise in what manner this salutary antagonism is assisted by the
very state, which it counteracts; and how this balance of antagonists
became organized into metre (in the usual acceptation of that term),
by a supervening act of the will and judgment, consciously and for the
foreseen purpose of pleasure. Assuming these principles, as the data
of our argument, we deduce from them two legitimate conditions, which
the critic is entitled to expect in every metrical work. First, that,
as the elements of metre owe their existence to a state of increased
excitement, so the metre itself should be accompanied by the natural
language of excitement. Secondly, that as these elements are formed
into metre artificially, by a voluntary act, with the design and for
the purpose of blending delight with emotion, so the traces of present
volition should throughout the metrical language be proportionately
discernible. Now these two conditions must be reconciled and co-
present. There must be not only a partnership, but a union; an
interpenetration of passion and of will, of spontaneous impulse and of
voluntary purpose. Again, this union can be manifested only in a
frequency of forms and figures of speech, (originally the offspring of
passion, but now the adopted children of power), greater than would be
desired or endured, where the emotion is not voluntarily encouraged
and kept up for the sake of that pleasure, which such emotion, so
tempered and mastered by the will, is found capable of communicating.
It not only dictates, but of itself tends to produce a more frequent
employment of picturesque and vivifying language, than would be
natural in any other case, in which there did not exist, as there does
in the present, a previous and well understood, though tacit, compact
between the poet and his reader, that the latter is entitled to
expect, and the former bound to supply this species and degree of
pleasurable excitement. We may in some measure apply to this union the
answer of Polixenes, in the Winter's Tale, to Perdita's neglect of the
streaked gilliflowers, because she had heard it said,

"There is an art, which, in their piedness, shares
With great creating nature.
POL. Say there be;
Yet nature is made better by no mean,
But nature makes that mean; so, o'er that art,
Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art,
That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry
A gentler scion to the wildest stock;
And make conceive a bark of baser kind
By bud of nobler race. This is an art,
Which does mend nature,--change it rather; but
The art itself is nature."

Secondly, I argue from the effects of metre. As far as metre acts in
and for itself, it tends to increase the vivacity and susceptibility
both of the general feelings and of the attention. This effect it
produces by the continued excitement of surprise, and by the quick
reciprocations of curiosity still gratified and still re-excited,
which are too slight indeed to be at any one moment objects of
distinct consciousness, yet become considerable in their aggregate
influence. As a medicated atmosphere, or as wine during animated
conversation, they act powerfully, though themselves unnoticed. Where,
therefore, correspondent food and appropriate matter are not provided
for the attention and feelings thus roused there must needs be a
disappointment felt; like that of leaping in the dark from the last
step of a stair-case, when we had prepared our muscles for a leap of
three or four.

The discussion on the powers of metre in the preface is highly
ingenious and touches at all points on truth. But I cannot find any
statement of its powers considered abstractly and separately. On the
contrary Mr. Wordsworth seems always to estimate metre by the powers,
which it exerts during, (and, as I think, in consequence of), its
combination with other elements of poetry. Thus the previous
difficulty is left unanswered, what the elements are, with which it
must be combined, in order to produce its own effects to any
pleasurable purpose. Double and tri-syllable rhymes, indeed, form a
lower species of wit, and, attended to exclusively for their own sake,
may become a source of momentary amusement; as in poor Smart's distich
to the Welsh Squire who had promised him a hare:

"Tell me, thou son of great Cadwallader!
Hast sent the hare? or hast thou swallow'd her?"

But for any poetic purposes, metre resembles, (if the aptness of the
simile may excuse its meanness), yeast, worthless or disagreeable by
itself, but giving vivacity and spirit to the liquor with which it is
proportionally combined.

The reference to THE CHILDREN IN THE WOOD by no means satisfies my
judgment. We all willingly throw ourselves back for awhile into the
feelings of our childhood. This ballad, therefore, we read under such
recollections of our own childish feelings, as would equally endear to
us poems, which Mr. Wordsworth himself would regard as faulty in the
opposite extreme of gaudy and technical ornament. Before the invention
of printing, and in a still greater degree, before the introduction of
writing, metre, especially alliterative metre, (whether alliterative
at the beginning of the words, as in PIERCE PLOUMAN, or at the end, as
in rhymes) possessed an independent value as assisting the
recollection, and consequently the preservation, of any series of
truths or incidents. But I am not convinced by the collation of facts,
that THE CHILDREN IN THE WOOD owes either its preservation, or its
popularity, to its metrical form. Mr. Marshal's repository affords a
number of tales in prose inferior in pathos and general merit, some of
as old a date, and many as widely popular. TOM HICKATHRIFT, JACK THE
formidable rivals. And that they have continued in prose, cannot be
fairly explained by the assumption, that the comparative meanness of
their thoughts and images precluded even the humblest forms of metre.
The scene of GOODY TWO-SHOES in the church is perfectly susceptible of
metrical narration; and, among the thaumata thaumastotata even of the
present age, I do not recollect a more astonishing image than that of
the "whole rookery, that flew out of the giant's beard," scared by the
tremendous voice, with which this monster answered the challenge of

If from these we turn to compositions universally, and independently
of all early associations, beloved and admired; would the MARIA, THE
MONK, or THE POOR MAN'S ASS of Sterne, be read with more delight, or
have a better chance of immortality, had they without any change in
the diction been composed in rhyme, than in their present state? If I
am not grossly mistaken, the general reply would be in the negative.
Nay, I will confess, that, in Mr. Wordsworth's own volumes, the
MOTHER, notwithstanding the beauties which are to be found in each of
them where the poet interposes the music of his own thoughts, would
have been more delightful to me in prose, told and managed, as by Mr.
Wordsworth they would have been, in a moral essay or pedestrian tour.

Metre in itself is simply a stimulant of the attention, and therefore
excites the question: Why is the attention to be thus stimulated? Now
the question cannot be answered by the pleasure of the metre itself;
for this we have shown to be conditional, and dependent on the
appropriateness of the thoughts and expressions, to which the metrical
form is superadded. Neither can I conceive any other answer that can
be rationally given, short of this: I write in metre, because I am
about to use a language different from that of prose. Besides, where
the language is not such, how interesting soever the reflections are,
that are capable of being drawn by a philosophic mind from the
thoughts or incidents of the poem, the metre itself must often become
feeble. Take the last three stanzas of THE SAILOR'S MOTHER, for
instance. If I could for a moment abstract from the effect produced on
the author's feelings, as a man, by the incident at the time of its
real occurrence, I would dare appeal to his own judgment, whether in
the metre itself he found a sufficient reason for their being written

And, thus continuing, she said,
"I had a Son, who many a day
Sailed on the seas; but he is dead;
In Denmark he was cast away;
And I have travelled far as Hull to see
What clothes he might have left, or other property.

The Bird and Cage they both were his
'Twas my Son's Bird; and neat and trim
He kept it: many voyages
This Singing-bird hath gone with him;
When last he sailed he left the Bird behind;
As it might be, perhaps, from bodings of his mind.

He to a Fellow-lodger's care
Had left it, to be watched and fed,
Till he came back again; and there
I found it when my Son was dead;
And now, God help me for my little wit!
I trail it with me, Sir! he took so much delight in it."

If disproportioning the emphasis we read these stanzas so as to make
the rhymes perceptible, even tri-syllable rhymes could scarcely
produce an equal sense of oddity and strangeness, as we feel here in
finding rhymes at all in sentences so exclusively colloquial. I would
further ask whether, but for that visionary state, into which the
figure of the woman and the susceptibility of his own genius had
placed the poet's imagination,--(a state, which spreads its influence
and colouring over all, that co-exists with the exciting cause, and in

"The simplest, and the most familiar things
Gain a strange power of spreading awe around them,") [67]

I would ask the poet whether he would not have felt an abrupt downfall
in these verses from the preceding stanza?

"The ancient spirit is not dead;
Old times, thought I, are breathing there;
Proud was I that my country bred
Such strength, a dignity so fair:
She begged an alms, like one in poor estate;
I looked at her again, nor did my pride abate."

It must not be omitted, and is besides worthy of notice, that those
stanzas furnish the only fair instance that I have been able to
discover in all Mr. Wordsworth's writings, of an actual adoption, or
true imitation, of the real and very language of low and rustic life,
freed from provincialisms.

Thirdly, I deduce the position from all the causes elsewhere assigned,
which render metre the proper form of poetry, and poetry imperfect and
defective without metre. Metre, therefore, having been connected with
poetry most often and by a peculiar fitness, whatever else is combined
with metre must, though it be not itself essentially poetic, have
nevertheless some property in common with poetry, as an intermedium of
affinity, a sort, (if I may dare borrow a well-known phrase from
technical chemistry), of mordaunt between it and the super-added
metre. Now poetry, Mr. Wordsworth truly affirms, does always imply
passion: which word must be here understood in its most general sense,
as an excited state of the feelings and faculties. And as every
passion has its proper pulse, so will it likewise have its
characteristic modes of expression. But where there exists that degree
of genius and talent which entitles a writer to aim at the honours of
a poet, the very act of poetic composition itself is, and is allowed
to imply and to produce, an unusual state of excitement, which of
course justifies and demands a correspondent difference of language,
as truly, though not perhaps in as marked a degree, as the excitement
of love, fear, rage, or jealousy. The vividness of the descriptions or
declamations in Donne or Dryden, is as much and as often derived from
the force and fervour of the describer, as from the reflections, forms
or incidents, which constitute their subject and materials. The wheels
take fire from the mere rapidity of their motion. To what extent, and
under what modifications, this may be admitted to act, I shall attempt
to define in an after remark on Mr. Wordsworth's reply to this
objection, or rather on his objection to this reply, as already
anticipated in his preface.

Fourthly, and as intimately connected with this, if not the same
argument in a more general form, I adduce the high spiritual instinct
of the human being impelling us to seek unity by harmonious
adjustment, and thus establishing the principle that all the parts of
an organized whole must be assimilated to the more important and
essential parts. This and the preceding arguments may be strengthened
by the reflection, that the composition of a poem is among the
imitative arts; and that imitation, as opposed to copying, consists
either in the interfusion of the same throughout the radically
different, or of the different throughout a base radically the same.

Lastly, I appeal to the practice of the best poets, of all countries
and in all ages, as authorizing the opinion, (deduced from all the
foregoing,) that in every import of the word essential, which would
not here involve a mere truism, there may be, is, and ought to be an
essential difference between the language of prose and of metrical

In Mr. Wordsworth's criticism of Gray's Sonnet, the reader's sympathy
with his praise or blame of the different parts is taken for granted
rather perhaps too easily. He has not, at least, attempted to win or
compel it by argumentative analysis. In my conception at least, the
lines rejected as of no value do, with the exception of the two first,
differ as much and as little from the language of common life, as
those which he has printed in italics as possessing genuine
excellence. Of the five lines thus honourably distinguished, two of
them differ from prose even more widely, than the lines which either
precede or follow, in the position of the words.

"A different object do these eyes require;
My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire."

But were it otherwise, what would this prove, but a truth, of which no
man ever doubted?--videlicet, that there are sentences, which would be
equally in their place both in verse and prose. Assuredly it does not
prove the point, which alone requires proof; namely, that there are
not passages, which would suit the one and not suit the other. The
first line of this sonnet is distinguished from the ordinary language
of men by the epithet to morning. For we will set aside, at present,
the consideration, that the particular word "smiling" is hackneyed,
and, as it involves a sort of personification, not quite congruous
with the common and material attribute of "shining." And, doubtless,
this adjunction of epithets for the purpose of additional description,
where no particular attention is demanded for the quality of the
thing, would be noticed as giving a poetic cast to a man's
conversation. Should the sportsman exclaim, "Come boys! the rosy
morning calls you up:" he will be supposed to have some song in his
head. But no one suspects this, when he says, "A wet morning shall not
confine us to our beds." This then is either a defect in poetry, or it
is not. Whoever should decide in the affirmative, I would request him
to re-peruse any one poem, of any confessedly great poet from Homer to
Milton, or from Aeschylus to Shakespeare; and to strike out, (in
thought I mean), every instance of this kind. If the number of these
fancied erasures did not startle him; or if he continued to deem the
work improved by their total omission; he must advance reasons of no
ordinary strength and evidence, reasons grounded in the essence of
human nature. Otherwise, I should not hesitate to consider him as a
man not so much proof against all authority, as dead to it.

The second line,

"And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire;--"

has indeed almost as many faults as words. But then it is a bad line,
not because the language is distinct from that of prose; but because
it conveys incongruous images; because it confounds the cause and the
effect; the real thing with the personified representative of the
thing; in short, because it differs from the language of good sense!
That the "Phoebus "is hackneyed, and a school-boy image, is an
accidental fault, dependent on the age in which the author wrote, and
not deduced from the nature of the thing. That it is part of an
exploded mythology, is an objection more deeply grounded. Yet when the
torch of ancient learning was re-kindled, so cheering were its beams,
that our eldest poets, cut off by Christianity from all accredited
machinery, and deprived of all acknowledged guardians and symbols of
the great objects of nature, were naturally induced to adopt, as a
poetic language, those fabulous personages, those forms of the
[68]supernatural in nature, which had given them such dear delight in
the poems of their great masters. Nay, even at this day what scholar
of genial taste will not so far sympathize with them, as to read with
pleasure in Petrarch, Chaucer, or Spenser, what he would perhaps
condemn as puerile in a modern poet?

I remember no poet, whose writings would safelier stand the test of
Mr. Wordsworth's theory, than Spenser. Yet will Mr. Wordsworth say,
that the style of the following stanza is either undistinguished from
prose, and the language of ordinary life? Or that it is vicious, and
that the stanzas are blots in THE FAERY QUEEN?

"By this the northern wagoner had set
His sevenfold teme behind the stedfast starre,
That was in ocean waves yet never wet,
But firme is fixt and sendeth light from farre
To all that in the wild deep wandering arre
And chearfull chaunticlere with his note shrill
Had warned once that Phoebus' fiery carre
In hast was climbing up the easterne hill,
Full envious that night so long his roome did fill."

"At last the golden orientall gate
Of greatest heaven gan to open fayre,
And Phoebus fresh, as brydegrome to his mate,
Came dauncing forth, shaking his deawie hayre,
And hurl'd his glist'ring beams through gloomy ayre:
Which when the wakeful elfe perceived, streightway
He started up, and did him selfe prepayre
In sun-bright armes and battailous array;
For with that pagan proud he combat will that day."

On the contrary to how many passages, both in hymn books and in blank
verse poems, could I, (were it not invidious), direct the reader's
attention, the style of which is most unpoetic, because, and only
because, it is the style of prose? He will not suppose me capable of
having in my mind such verses, as

"I put my hat upon my head
And walk'd into the Strand;
And there I met another man,
Whose hat was in his hand."

To such specimens it would indeed be a fair and full reply, that these
lines are not bad, because they are unpoetic; but because they are
empty of all sense and feeling; and that it were an idle attempt to
prove that "an ape is not a Newton, when it is self-evident that he is
not a man." But the sense shall be good and weighty, the language
correct and dignified, the subject interesting and treated with
feeling; and yet the style shall, notwithstanding all these merits, be
justly blamable as prosaic, and solely because the words and the order
of the words would find their appropriate place in prose, but are not
suitable to metrical composition. The CIVIL WARS of Daniel is an
instructive, and even interesting work; but take the following
stanzas, (and from the hundred instances which abound I might probably
have selected others far more striking):

"And to the end we may with better ease
Discern the true discourse, vouchsafe to shew
What were the times foregoing near to these,
That these we may with better profit know.
Tell how the world fell into this disease;
And how so great distemperature did grow;
So shall we see with what degrees it came;
How things at full do soon wax out of frame."

"Ten kings had from the Norman Conqu'ror reign'd
With intermix'd and variable fate,
When England to her greatest height attain'd
Of power, dominion, glory, wealth, and state;
After it had with much ado sustain'd
The violence of princes, with debate
For titles and the often mutinies
Of nobles for their ancient liberties."

"For first, the Norman, conqu'ring all by might,
By might was forc'd to keep what he had got;
Mixing our customs and the form of right
With foreign constitutions, he had brought;
Mast'ring the mighty, humbling the poorer wight,
By all severest means that could be wrought;
And, making the succession doubtful, rent
His new-got state, and left it turbulent."

Will it be contended on the one side, that these lines are mean and
senseless? Or on the other, that they are not prosaic, and for that
reason unpoetic? This poet's well-merited epithet is that of the
"well-languaged Daniel;" but likewise, and by the consent of his
contemporaries no less than of all succeeding critics, "the prosaic
Daniel." Yet those, who thus designate this wise and amiable writer
from the frequent incorrespondency of his diction to his metre in the
majority of his compositions, not only deem them valuable and
interesting on other accounts; but willingly admit, that there are to
be found throughout his poems, and especially in his EPISTLES and in
his HYMEN'S TRIUMPH, many and exquisite specimens of that style which,
as the neutral ground of prose and verse, is common to both. A fine
and almost faultless extract, eminent as for other beauties, so for
its perfection in this species of diction, may be seen in Lamb's
DRAMATIC SPECIMENS, a work of various interest from the nature of the
selections themselves, (all from the plays of Shakespeare's
contemporaries),--and deriving a high additional value from the notes,
which are full of just and original criticism, expressed with all the
freshness of originality.

Among the possible effects of practical adherence to a theory, that
aims to identify the style of prose and verse,--(if it does not indeed
claim for the latter a yet nearer resemblance to the average style of
men in the viva voce intercourse of real life)--we might anticipate
the following as not the least likely to occur. It will happen, as I
have indeed before observed, that the metre itself, the sole
acknowledged difference, will occasionally become metre to the eye
only. The existence of prosaisms, and that they detract from the merit
of a poem, must at length be conceded, when a number of successive
lines can be rendered, even to the most delicate ear, unrecognizable
as verse, or as having even been intended for verse, by simply
transcribing them as prose; when if the poem be in blank verse, this
can be effected without any alteration, or at most by merely restoring
one or two words to their proper places, from which they have been
transplanted [69] for no assignable cause or reason but that of the
author's convenience; but if it be in rhyme, by the mere exchange of
the final word of each line for some other of the same meaning,
equally appropriate, dignified and euphonic.

The answer or objection in the preface to the anticipated remark "that
metre paves the way to other distinctions," is contained in the
following words. "The distinction of rhyme and metre is regular and
uniform, and not, like that produced by (what is usually called)
poetic diction, arbitrary, and subject to infinite caprices, upon
which no calculation whatever can be made. In the one case the reader
is utterly at the mercy of the poet respecting what imagery or diction
he may choose to connect with the passion." But is this a poet, of
whom a poet is speaking? No surely! rather of a fool or madman: or at
best of a vain or ignorant phantast! And might not brains so wild and
so deficient make just the same havoc with rhymes and metres, as they
are supposed to effect with modes and figures of speech? How is the
reader at the mercy of such men? If he continue to read their
nonsense, is it not his own fault? The ultimate end of criticism is
much more to establish the principles of writing, than to furnish
rules how to pass judgment on what has been written by others; if
indeed it were possible that the two could be separated. But if it be
asked, by what principles the poet is to regulate his own style, if he
do not adhere closely to the sort and order of words which he hears in
the market, wake, high-road, or plough-field? I reply; by principles,
the ignorance or neglect of which would convict him of being no poet,
but a silly or presumptuous usurper of the name. By the principles of
grammar, logic, psychology. In one word by such a knowledge of the
facts, material and spiritual, that most appertain to his art, as, if
it have been governed and applied by good sense, and rendered
instinctive by habit, becomes the representative and reward of our
past conscious reasonings, insights, and conclusions, and acquires the
name of Taste. By what rule that does not leave the reader at the
poet's mercy, and the poet at his own, is the latter to distinguish
between the language suitable to suppressed, and the language, which
is characteristic of indulged, anger? Or between that of rage and that
of jealousy? Is it obtained by wandering about in search of angry or
jealous people in uncultivated society, in order to copy their words?
Or not far rather by the power of imagination proceeding upon the all
in each of human nature? By meditation, rather than by observation?
And by the latter in consequence only of the former? As eyes, for
which the former has pre-determined their field of vision, and to
which, as to its organ, it communicates a microscopic power? There is
not, I firmly believe, a man now living, who has, from his own inward
experience, a clearer intuition, than Mr. Wordsworth himself, that the
last mentioned are the true sources of genial discrimination. Through
the same process and by the same creative agency will the poet
distinguish the degree and kind of the excitement produced by the very
act of poetic composition. As intuitively will he know, what
differences of style it at once inspires and justifies; what
intermixture of conscious volition is natural to that state; and in
what instances such figures and colours of speech degenerate into mere
creatures of an arbitrary purpose, cold technical artifices of
ornament or connection. For, even as truth is its own light and
evidence, discovering at once itself and falsehood, so is it the
prerogative of poetic genius to distinguish by parental instinct its
proper offspring from the changelings, which the gnomes of vanity or
the fairies of fashion may have laid in its cradle or called by its
names. Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be
poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be morphosis, not
poiaesis. The rules of the Imagination are themselves the very powers
of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible,
present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A
deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be
elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children
only put it to their mouths. We find no difficulty in admitting as
excellent, and the legitimate language of poetic fervour self-
impassioned, Donne's apostrophe to the Sun in the second stanza of his

"Thee, eye of heaven! this great Soul envies not;
By thy male force is all, we have, begot.
In the first East thou now beginn'st to shine,
Suck'st early balm and island spices there,
And wilt anon in thy loose-rein'd career
At Tagus, Po, Seine, Thames, and Danow dine,
And see at night this western world of mine:
Yet hast thou not more nations seen than she,
Who before thee one day began to be,
And, thy frail light being quench'd, shall long, long outlive

Or the next stanza but one:

"Great Destiny, the commissary of God,
That hast mark'd out a path and period
For every thing! Who, where we offspring took,
Our ways and ends see'st at one instant: thou
Knot of all causes! Thou, whose changeless brow
Ne'er smiles nor frowns! O! vouchsafe thou to look,
And shew my story in thy eternal book," etc.

As little difficulty do we find in excluding from the honours of
unaffected warmth and elevation the madness prepense of pseudopoesy,
or the startling hysteric of weakness over-exerting itself, which
bursts on the unprepared reader in sundry odes and apostrophes to
abstract terms. Such are the Odes to jealousy, to Hope, to Oblivion,
and the like, in Dodsley's collection and the magazines of that day,
which seldom fail to remind me of an Oxford copy of verses on the two
SUTTONS, commencing with

"Inoculation, heavenly maid! descend!"

It is not to be denied that men of undoubted talents, and even poets
of true, though not of first-rate, genius, have from a mistaken theory
deluded both themselves and others in the opposite extreme. I once
read to a company of sensible and well-educated women the introductory
period of Cowley's preface to his "Pindaric Odes," written in
imitation of the style and manner of the odes of Pindar. "If," (says
Cowley), "a man should undertake to translate Pindar, word for word,
it would be thought that one madman had translated another as may
appear, when he, that understands not the original, reads the verbal
traduction of him into Latin prose, than which nothing seems more
raving." I then proceeded with his own free version of the second
Olympic, composed for the charitable purpose of rationalizing the
Theban Eagle.

"Queen of all harmonious things,
Dancing words and speaking strings,
What god, what hero, wilt thou sing?
What happy man to equal glories bring?
Begin, begin thy noble choice,
And let the hills around reflect the image of thy voice.
Pisa does to Jove belong,
Jove and Pisa claim thy song.
The fair first-fruits of war, th' Olympic games,
Alcides, offer'd up to Jove;
Alcides, too, thy strings may move,
But, oh! what man to join with these can worthy prove?
Join Theron boldly to their sacred names;
Theron the next honour claims;
Theron to no man gives place,
Is first in Pisa's and in Virtue's race;
Theron there, and he alone,
Ev'n his own swift forefathers has outgone."

One of the company exclaimed, with the full assent of the rest, that
if the original were madder than this, it must be incurably mad. I
then translated the ode from the Greek, and as nearly as possible,
word for word; and the impression was, that in the general movement of
the periods, in the form of the connections and transitions, and in
the sober majesty of lofty sense, it appeared to them to approach more
nearly, than any other poetry they had heard, to the style of our
Bible, in the prophetic books. The first strophe will suffice as a

"Ye harp-controlling hymns! (or) ye hymns the sovereigns of harps!
What God? what Hero?
What Man shall we celebrate?
Truly Pisa indeed is of Jove,
But the Olympiad (or the Olympic games) did Hercules establish,
The first-fruits of the spoils of war.
But Theron for the four-horsed car,
That bore victory to him,
It behoves us now to voice aloud:
The Just, the Hospitable,
The Bulwark of Agrigentum,
Of renowned fathers
The Flower, even him
Who preserves his native city erect and safe."

But are such rhetorical caprices condemnable only for their deviation
from the language of real life? and are they by no other means to be
precluded, but by the rejection of all distinctions between prose and
verse, save that of metre? Surely good sense, and a moderate insight
into the constitution of the human mind, would be amply sufficient to
prove, that such language and such combinations are the native product
neither of the fancy nor of the imagination; that their operation
consists in the excitement of surprise by the juxta-position and
apparent reconciliation of widely different or incompatible things. As
when, for instance, the hills are made to reflect the image of a
voice. Surely, no unusual taste is requisite to see clearly, that this
compulsory juxtaposition is not produced by the presentation of
impressive or delightful forms to the inward vision, nor by any
sympathy with the modifying powers with which the genius of the poet
had united and inspirited all the objects of his thought; that it is
therefore a species of wit, a pure work of the will, and implies a
leisure and self-possession both of thought and of feeling,
incompatible with the steady fervour of a mind possessed and filled
with the grandeur of its subject. To sum up the whole in one sentence.
When a poem, or a part of a poem, shall be adduced, which is evidently
vicious in the figures and centexture of its style, yet for the
condemnation of which no reason can be assigned, except that it
differs from the style in which men actually converse, then, and not
till then, can I hold this theory to be either plausible, or
practicable, or capable of furnishing either rule, guidance, or
precaution, that might not, more easily and more safely, as well as
more naturally, have been deduced in the author's own mind from
considerations of grammar, logic, and the truth and nature of things,
confirmed by the authority of works, whose fame is not of one country
nor of one age.


Continuation--Concerning the real object which, it is probable, Mr.
Wordsworth had before him in his critical preface--Elucidation and
application of this.

It might appear from some passages in the former part of Mr.
Wordsworth's preface, that he meant to confine his theory of style,
and the necessity of a close accordance with the actual language of
men, to those particular subjects from low and rustic life, which by
way of experiment he had purposed to naturalize as a new species in
our English poetry. But from the train of argument that follows; from
the reference to Milton; and from the spirit of his critique on Gray's
sonnet; those sentences appear to have been rather courtesies of
modesty, than actual limitations of his system. Yet so groundless does
this system appear on a close examination; and so strange and
overwhelming [70] in its consequences, that I cannot, and I do not,
believe that the poet did ever himself adopt it in the unqualified
sense, in which his expressions have been understood by others, and
which, indeed, according to all the common laws of interpretation they
seem to bear. What then did he mean? I apprehend, that in the clear
perception, not unaccompanied with disgust or contempt, of the gaudy
affectations of a style which passed current with too many for poetic
diction, (though in truth it had as little pretensions to poetry, as
to logic or common sense,) he narrowed his view for the time; and
feeling a justifiable preference for the language of nature and of
good sense, even in its humblest and least ornamented forms, he
suffered himself to express, in terms at once too large and too
exclusive, his predilection for a style the most remote possible from
the false and showy splendour which he wished to explode. It is
possible, that this predilection, at first merely comparative,
deviated for a time into direct partiality. But the real object which
he had in view, was, I doubt not, a species of excellence which had
been long before most happily characterized by the judicious and
amiable Garve, whose works are so justly beloved and esteemed by the
Germans, in his remarks on Gellert, from which the following is
literally translated. "The talent, that is required in order to make,
excellent verses, is perhaps greater than the philosopher is ready to
admit, or would find it in his power to acquire: the talent to seek
only the apt expression of the thought, and yet to find at the same
time with it the rhyme and the metre. Gellert possessed this happy
gift, if ever any one of our poets possessed it; and nothing perhaps
contributed more to the great and universal impression which his
fables made on their first publication, or conduces more to their
continued popularity. It was a strange and curious phaenomenon, and
such as in Germany had been previously unheard of, to read verses in
which everything was expressed just as one would wish to talk, and yet
all dignified, attractive, and interesting; and all at the same time
perfectly correct as to the measure of the syllables and the rhyme. It
is certain, that poetry when it has attained this excellence makes a
far greater impression than prose. So much so indeed, that even the
gratification which the very rhymes afford, becomes then no longer a
contemptible or trifling gratification." [71]

However novel this phaenomenon may have been in Germany at the time of
Gellert, it is by no means new, nor yet of recent existence in our
language. Spite of the licentiousness with which Spenser occasionally
compels the orthography of his words into a subservience to his
rhymes, the whole FAIRY QUEEN is an almost continued instance of this
beauty. Waller's song GO, LOVELY ROSE, is doubtless familiar to most
of my readers; but if I had happened to have had by me the Poems of
Cotton, more but far less deservedly celebrated as the author of the
VIRGIL TRAVESTIED, I should have indulged myself, and I think have
gratified many, who are not acquainted with his serious works, by
selecting some admirable specimens of this style. There are not a few
poems in that volume, replete with every excellence of thought, image,
and passion, which we expect or desire in the poetry of the milder
muse; and yet so worded, that the reader sees no one reason either in
the selection or the order of the words, why he might not have said
the very same in an appropriate conversation, and cannot conceive how
indeed he could have expressed such thoughts otherwise without loss or
injury to his meaning.

But in truth our language is, and from the first dawn of poetry ever
has been, particularly rich in compositions distinguished by this
excellence. The final e, which is now mute, in Chaucer's age was
either sounded or dropt indifferently. We ourselves still use either
"beloved" or "belov'd" according as the rhyme, or measure, or the
purpose of more or less solemnity may require. Let the reader then
only adopt the pronunciation of the poet and of the court, at which he
lived, both with respect to the final e and to the accentuation of the
last syllable; I would then venture to ask, what even in the
colloquial language of elegant and unaffected women, (who are the
peculiar mistresses of "pure English and undefiled,") what could we
hear more natural, or seemingly more unstudied, than the following
stanzas from Chaucer's TROILUS AND CRESEIDE.

"And after this forth to the gate he wente,
Ther as Creseide out rode a ful gode pass,
And up and doun there made he many' a wente,
And to himselfe ful oft he said, Alas!
Fro hennis rode my blisse and my solas
As woulde blisful God now for his joie,
I might her sene agen come in to Troie!
And to the yondir hil I gan her Bide,
Alas! and there I toke of her my leve
And yond I saw her to her fathir ride;
For sorow of whiche mine hert shall to-cleve;
And hithir home I came whan it was eve,
And here I dwel, out-cast from ally joie,
And steal, til I maie sene her efte in Troie.
"And of himselfe imaginid he ofte
To ben defaitid, pale and woxin lesse
Than he was wonte, and that men saidin softe,
What may it be? who can the sothe gesse,
Why Troilus hath al this hevinesse?
And al this n' as but his melancolie,
That he had of himselfe suche fantasie.
Anothir time imaginin he would
That every wight, that past him by the wey,
Had of him routhe, and that thei saien should,
I am right sory, Troilus wol dey!
And thus he drove a daie yet forth or twey,
As ye have herde: suche life gan he to lede
As he that stode betwixin hope and drede:
For which him likid in his songis shewe
Th' encheson of his wo as he best might,
And made a songe of words but a fewe,
Somwhat his woful herte for to light,
And whan he was from every mann'is sight
With softe voice he of his lady dere,
That absent was, gan sing as ye may here:

* * * * * *

This song, when he thus songin had, ful Bone
He fil agen into his sighis olde
And every night, as was his wonte to done;
He stode the bright moone to beholde
And all his sorowe to the moone he tolde,
And said: I wis, whan thou art hornid newe,
I shall be glad, if al the world be trewe!"

Another exquisite master of this species of style, where the scholar
and the poet supplies the material, but the perfect well-bred
gentleman the expressions and the arrangement, is George Herbert. As
from the nature of the subject, and the too frequent quaintness of the
Comparatively but little known, I shall extract two poems. The first
is a sonnet, equally admirable for the weight, number, and expression
of the thoughts, and for the simple dignity of the language. Unless,
indeed, a fastidious taste should object to the latter half of the
sixth line. The second is a poem of greater length, which I have
chosen not only for the present purpose, but likewise as a striking
example and illustration of an assertion hazarded in a former page of
these sketches namely, that the characteristic fault of our elder
poets is the reverse of that, which distinguishes too many of our more
recent versifiers; the one conveying the most fantastic thoughts in
the most correct and natural language; the other in the most fantastic
language conveying the most trivial thoughts. The latter is a riddle
of words; the former an enigma of thoughts. The one reminds me of an
odd passage in Drayton's IDEAS

As other men, so I myself do muse,
Why in this sort I wrest invention so;
And why these giddy metaphors I use,
Leaving the path the greater part do go;
I will resolve you: I am lunatic! [72]

The other recalls a still odder passage in THE SYNAGOGUE: or THE
SHADOW OF THE TEMPLE, a connected series of poems in imitation of
Herbert's TEMPLE, and, in some editions, annexed to it.

O how my mind
Is gravell'd!
Not a thought,
That I can find,
But's ravell'd
All to nought!
Short ends of threds,
And narrow shreds
Of lists,
Knots, snarled ruffs,
Loose broken tufts
Of twists,
Are my torn meditations ragged clothing,
Which, wound and woven, shape a suit for nothing:
One while I think, and then I am in pain
To think how to unthink that thought again.

Immediately after these burlesque passages I cannot proceed to the
extracts promised, without changing the ludicrous tone of feeling by
the interposition of the three following stanzas of Herbert's.


Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky,
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye
Thy root is ever in its grave,
And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box, where sweets compacted lie
My music shews, ye have your closes,
And all must die.


Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round,
Parents first season us; then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws; they send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises;
Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
The sound of Glory ringing in our ears
Without, our shame; within, our consciences;
Angels and grace, eternal hopes and fears.
Yet all these fences and their whole array
One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.


Dear friend, sit down, the tale is long and sad
And in my faintings, I presume, your love
Will more comply than help. A Lord I had,
And have, of whom some grounds, which may improve,
I hold for two lives, and both lives in me.
To him I brought a dish of fruit one day,
And in the middle placed my heart. But he
(I sigh to say)
Look'd on a servant, who did know his eye,
Better than you know me, or (which is one)
Than I myself. The servant instantly,
Quitting the fruit, seiz'd on my heart alone,
And threw it in a font, wherein did fall
A stream of blood, which issued from the side
Of a great rock: I well remember all,
And have good cause: there it was dipt and dyed,
And wash'd, and wrung: the very wringing yet
Enforceth tears. "Your heart was foul, I fear."
Indeed 'tis true. I did and do commit
Many a fault, more than my lease will bear;
Yet still ask'd pardon, and was not denied.
But you shall hear. After my heart was well,
And clean and fair, as I one eventide
(I sigh to tell)
Walk'd by myself abroad, I saw a large
And spacious furnace flaming, and thereon
A boiling caldron, round about whose verge
Was in great letters set AFFLICTION.
The greatness shew'd the owner. So I went
To fetch a sacrifice out of my fold,
Thinking with that, which I did thus present,
To warm his love, which, I did fear, grew cold.
But as my heart did tender it, the man
Who was to take it from me, slipt his hand,
And threw my heart into the scalding pan;
My heart that brought it (do you understand?)
The offerer's heart. "Your heart was hard, I fear."
Indeed 'tis true. I found a callous matter
Began to spread and to expatiate there:
But with a richer drug than scalding water
I bath'd it often, ev'n with holy blood,
Which at a board, while many drank bare wine,
A friend did steal into my cup for good,
Ev'n taken inwardly, and most divine

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