Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Famous Reviews by Editor: R. Brimley Johnson

Part 1 out of 10

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Carol David and PG Distributed Proofreaders

FAMOUS REVIEWS

_FROM THE SAME PUBLISHERS_

FAMOUS SPEECHES. First Series. From Cromwell to Gladstone. Selected and
Edited with Introductory Notes by HERBERT PAUL. In demy 8vo, cloth, 470
pp. 7s. 6d. net.

FAMOUS SPEECHES. Second Series. From Lord Macaulay to Lord Rosebery.
Selected and Edited with Introductory Notes by HERBERT PAUL. In demy
8vo, cloth, 398 pp. 7s. 6d. net.

FAMOUS SERMONS BY ENGLISH PREACHERS. From the VENERABLE BEDE to H.P.
LIDDON. Edited with Historical and Biographical Notes by Canon DOUGLAS
MACLEANE, M.A. In demy 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s. net.

FAMOUS REVIEWS

SELECTED AND EDITED

WITH INTRODUCTORY NOTES

BY

R. BRIMLEY JOHNSON

Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true,
But are not critics to their judgment too?
_Pope_.

LONDON

1914

CONTENTS

PREFACE

OF CRITICISM AND THE CRITIC

THE EDINBURGH REVIEW: EDITOR'S NOTE

From _The Edinburgh Review_
(founded 1802)

LORD JEFFREY ON-- [SOUTHEY'S "THALABA"
[SOUTHEY'S LAUREATE LAYS
[THOMAS MOORE
[WORDSWORTH'S "EXCURSION"
["ENDYMION"

LORD BROUGHAM ON BYRON

SYDNEY SMITH ON HANNAH MORE

MACAULAY ON-- [SOUTHEY'S COLLOQUIES
[CROKER'S "BOSWELL"
[W. E. GLADSTONE
[MADAME D'ARBLAY

ANONYMOUS ON-- [WORDSWORTH
[MATURIN'S "MELMOTH"

THE QUARTERLY REVIEW: EDITOR'S NOTE

From _The Quarterly Review_
(founded 1809)

GIFFORD ON-- [WEBER'S "FORD"
[KEATS

CROKER ON-- [SYDNEY SMITH
[MACAULAY

LOCKHART ON-- [THE AUTHOR OF "VATHEK"
[S. T. COLERIDGE

SIR WALTER SCOTT ON JANE AUSTEN

ARCHBISHOP WHATELY ON JANE AUSTEN

W. E. GLADSTONE ON TENNYSON'S POEMS

CANON WILBERFORCE ON--[DARWIN
[CARDINAL NEWMAN

ANONYMOUS ON SCOTT'S--["WAVERLEY"
["TALES OF MY LANDLORD"

ANONYMOUS ON-- [LEIGH HUNT'S "RIMINI"
["SHAKESPEARE HIMSELF AGAIN"
[MOXON'S SONNETS
["VANITY FAIR" AND "JANE EYRE"
[GEORGE ELIOT

BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE: EDITOR'S NOTE

From _Blackwood's Magazine_
(founded 1817)

PROFESSOR WILSON ON--[POPE AND WORDSWORTH
(_Christopher North_) [LORD BYRON
[DR. JOHNSON
[CRUMBS FROM THE "NOCTES"

ANONYMOUS ON-- [S. T. COLERIDGE
[THE COCKNEY SCHOOL I
[" " " III
[" " " IV
[SHELLEY'S "PROMETHEUS"

THE WESTMINSTER REVIEW: EDITOR'S NOTE

From _The Westminster Review_
(founded 1824)

J. S. MILL ON-- [TENNYSON'S POEMS
[MACAULAY'S "LAYS"

JOHN STERLING ON CARLYLE

FRASER'S MAGAZINE: EDITOR'S NOTE

From _Fraser's Magazine_

THACKERAY ON DICKENS'S CHRISTMAS STORIES

CHARLES KINGSLEY ON THE LAKE POETS

ANONYMOUS ON CHRISTMAS BOOKS, 1837

W. F. FOX: EDITOR'S NOTE

From _The Monthly Repository_
W. F. FOX ON BROWNING'S "PAULINE"

DE QUINCEY: EDITOR'S NOTE

From Tail's _Edinburgh Magazine_

DE QUINCEY ON POPE

PREFACE

Although regular literary organs, and the critical columns of the press,
are both of comparatively recent origin, we find that almost from the
beginning our journalists aspired to be critics as well as newsmongers.
Under Charles II, Sir Roger L'Estrange issued his _Observator_ (1681),
which was a weekly review, not a chronicle; and John Dunton's _The
Athenian Mercury_ (1690), is best described as a sort of early "Notes
and Queries." Here, as elsewhere, Defoe developed this branch of
journalism, particularly in his _Review_ (1704), and in _Mist's Journal_
(1714). And, again, as in all other departments, his methods were not
materially improved upon until Leigh Hunt, and his brother John, started
_The Examiner_ in 1808, soon after the rise of the Reviews. Addison and
Steele, of course, had treated literary topics in _The Spectator_ or
_The Tatler_; but the serious discussion of contemporary writers began
with the Whig _Edinburgh_ of 1802 and the Tory _Quarterly_ of 1809.

By the end of George III's reign every daily paper had its column of
book-notices; while 1817 marks an epoch in the weekly press; when
William Jerdan started _The Observator_ (parent of our _Athenaeum_) in
order to furnish (for one shilling weekly) "a clear and instructive
picture of the moral and literary improvement of the time, and a
complete and authentic chronological literary record for reference."

Though probably there is no form of literature more widely practised,
and less organised, than the review, it would be safe to say that every
example stands somewhere between a critical essay and a publisher's
advertisement. We need not, however, consider here the many influences
which may corrupt newspaper criticism to-day, nor concern ourselves with
those legitimate "notices of books" which only aim at "telling the
story" or otherwise offering guidance for an "order from the library."

The question remains, on which we do not propose to dogmatise, whether
the ideal of a reviewer should be critical or explanatory: whether, in
other words, he should attempt final judgment or offer comment and
analysis from which we may each form our own opinion. Probably no hard
and fast line can be drawn between the review and the essay; yet a good
volume of criticism can seldom be gleaned from periodicals. For one
thing all journalism, whether consciously or unconsciously, must contain
an appeal to the moment. The reviewer is introducing new work to his
reader, the essayist, or critic proper, may nearly always assume some
familiarity with his subject. The one hazards prophecy; the other
discusses, and illumines, a judgment already formed, if not established.
It is obvious that such reviews as Macaulay's in the _Edinburgh_ were
often permanent contributions to critical history; while, on the other
hand, many ponderous effusions of the _Quarterly_ are only interesting
as a sign of the times.

The fame of a review, however, does not always depend on merit. The
scandalous attacks on the Cockney school, for example, were neither good
literature nor honest criticism. We still pause in wonder before the
streams of virulent personal abuse and unbridled licence in temper which
disgrace the early pages of volumes we now associate with sound and
dignified, if somewhat conventional, utterances on the art of Literature
as viewed from the table-land of authority. And, as inevitably the most
famous reviews are those which attend the birth of genius, we must
include more respectable errors of judgment, if we find also several
remarkable appreciations which prove singular insight.

Following the "early" reviews, whether distinguished for culpable
blindness, private hostility, or rare sympathy, we must depend for our
second main source of material upon that fortunate combination of
circumstances when one of the mighty has been invited to pass judgment
upon his peers. When Scott notices Jane Austen, Macaulay James Boswell,
Gladstone and John Stuart Mill Lord Tennyson, the article acquires a
double value from author and subject. Curiously enough, as it would seem
to us in these days of advertisement, many such treasures of criticism
were published anonymously; and accident has often aided research in the
discovery of their authorship. It is only too probable that more were
written than we have yet on record.

In reviewing, as elsewhere, the growth of professionalism has tended to
level the quality of work. The mass of thoroughly competent criticism
issued to-day has raised enormously the general tone of the press; but
genuine men of letters are seldom employed to welcome, or stifle, a
newcomer; though Meredith, and more frequently Swinburne, have on
occasion elected to pronounce judgment upon the passing generation; as
Mrs. Meynell or Mr. G.K. Chesterton have sometimes said the right thing
about their contemporaries. The days when postcard notices from
Gladstone secured a record in sales are over; and, from whatever
combination of causes, we hear no more of famous reviews.

R. BRIMLEY JOHNSON.

It is with regret that I have found it impossible to print more than a
few of the following reviews complete. The writing of those days was, in
almost every case, extremely prolix, and often irrelevant. It nearly
always makes heavy reading in the originals. The _principle_ of
selection adopted is to retain the most pithy, and attractive, portion
of each article: omitting quotations and the discussion of particular
passages. It therefore becomes necessary to remark--in justice to the
writers--that most of the criticisms here quoted were accompanied by
references to what was regarded by the reviewer as evidence supporting
them. Most of the authors, or books, noticed however, are sufficiently
well known for the reader to have no difficulty in judging for himself.

R. B. J.

OF CRITICISM AND CRITIC

DR. JOHNSON

There is a certain race of men, that either imagine it their duty, or
make it their amusement, to hinder the reception of every work of
learning or genius, who stand as sentinels in the avenues of fame, and
value themselves upon giving ignorance and envy the first notice of a
prey.

To these men, who distinguish themselves by the appellation of Critics,
it is necessary for a new author to find some means of recommendation.
It is probable, that the most malignant of these persecutors might be
somewhat softened, and prevailed on, for a short time, to remit their
fury. Having for this purpose considered many expedients, I find in the
records of ancient times, that Argus was lulled by music, and Cerberus
quieted with a sop; and am, therefore, inclined to believe that modern
critics, who, if they have not the eyes, have the watchfulness of Argus,
and can bark as loud as Cerberus, though, perhaps, they cannot bite with
equal force, might be subdued by methods of the same kind. I have heard
that some have been pacified with claret and a supper, and others laid
asleep with the soft notes of flattery.--_The Rambler_.

CHRISTOPHER NORTH

I care not one single curse for all the criticism that ever was canted
or decanted, or recanted. Neither does the world. The world takes a poet
as it finds him, and seats him above or below the salt. The world is as
obstinate as a million mules, and will not turn its head on one side or
another for all the shouting of the critical population that ever was
shouted. It is very possible that the world is a bad judge. Well, then--
appeal to posterity, and be hanged to you--and posterity will affirm the
judgment, with costs.--_Noctes Ambrosianae, Sept_., 1825.

Our current literature teems with thought and feeling,--with passion and
imagination. There was Gifford, and there are Jeffrey, and Southey ...
and twenty--forty--fifty--other crack contributors to the Reviews,
Magazines and Gazettes, who have said more tender, and true, and fine,
and deep things in the way of criticism, than ever was said before since
the reign of Cadmus, ten thousand times over,--not in long, dull, heavy,
formal, prosy theories--but flung off-hand, out of the glowing mint--a
coinage of the purest ore--and stamped with the ineffaceable impress of
genius.--_Noctes Ambrosianae_, April, 1829.

The cause of a wrong taste is a defect of judgment.
EDMUND BURKE.

We must not underrate him who uses wit for subsistence, and flies from
the ingratitude of the age even to a bookseller for redress.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH.

The critical faculty is a _rara avis_; almost as rare, indeed, as the
phoenix, which appears only once in five hundred years. ARTHUR
SCHOPENHAUER.

The Supreme Critic ... is ... that Unity, that Oversoul, within which
every man's particular being is contained and made one with all other.
R. W. EMERSON.

Criticism's best spiritual work which is to keep man from a
self-satisfaction which is retarding and vulgarising, to lead him
towards perfection, by making his mind dwell upon what is excellent in
itself, and the absolute beauty and fitness of things.
MATTHEW ARNOLD.

The whole history of criticism has been a triumph of authors over
critics.
R. G. MOULTON.

Our criticism is disabled by the unwillingness of the critic to learn
from an author, and his readiness to mistrust him.
D. H. HOWELLS.

We have too many small schoolmasters; yet not only do I not question in
literature the high utility of criticism, but I should be tempted to say
that the part it plays may be the supremely beneficent one when it
proceeds from deep sources, from the efficient combination of experience
and perception. In this light one sees the critic as the real helper of
mankind, a torch-bearing outrider, the interpreter _par excellence_.
HENRY JAMES.

FAMOUS REVIEWS

* * * * *

THE EDINBURGH REVIEW

"A confederacy (the word _conspiracy_ may be libellous) to defend the
worst atrocities of the French, and to cry down every author to whom
England was dear and venerable. A better spirit now prevails in the
_Edinburgh Review_ from the generosity and genius of Macaulay. But in
the days when Brougham and his confederates were writers in it, more
falsehood and more malignity marked its pages than any other journal in
the language."

W.S. LANDOR.

Landor is speaking, of course, with his usual impetuosity, particularly
moved by antipathy to Lord Brougham. A fairer estimate of the "bluff and
blue" exponent of Whig principles may be obtained from our brief
estimate of Jeffrey below. His was the informing spirit, at least in its
earliest days, and that spirit would brook no divided sway.

FRANCIS LORD JEFFREY
(1773-1850)

Jeffrey was editor of the _Edinburgh Review_ from its foundation in
October 10th, 1802, till June, 1829; and continued to write for it until
June, 1848. He was more patronising in his abuse than either _Blackwood_
or the _Quarterly_, and on the whole fairer and more dignified; though
he was considerably influenced by political bias. In fact, his
judgments--though versatile--were narrow, his most marked limitations
arising from blindness to the imaginative.

The short, vivacious figure (so low that he might pass under your chin
without ever catching the eye even for a moment, says Lockhart), was far
more impressive when familiar than at first sight. Lord Cockburn praises
his legal abilities (whether as judge or advocate) almost without
qualification; but Wilson derides his appearance in the House:--"A cold
thin voice, doling out little, quaint, metaphysical sentences with the
air of a provincial lecturer on logic and _belles-lettres_. A few good
Whigs of the old school adjourned upstairs, the Tories began to converse
_de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis_, the Radicals were either snoring
or grinning, and the great gun of the north ceased firing amidst such a
hubbub of inattention, that even I was not aware of the fact for several
minutes."

He has been called "almost a lecturer in society," and it is clear that
his difficulty always was to cease talking. Men as different as Macaulay
and Charles Dickens have spoken with deep personal affection of his
memory.

In one of Carlyle's inimitable "pen-portraits" he is described as "a
delicate, attractive, dainty little figure, as he merely walked about,
much more if he were speaking: uncommonly bright, black eyes, instinct
with vivacity, intelligence and kindly fire; roundish brow, delicate
oval face, full, rapid expression; figure light, nimble, pretty, though
so small, perhaps hardly five feet four in height.... His voice clear,
harmonious, and sonorous, had something of metallic in it, something
almost plangent ... a strange, swift, sharp-sounding, fitful modulation,
part of it pungent, _quasi latrant_, other parts of it cooing, bantery,
lovingly quizzical, which no charm of his fine ringing voice (_metallic_
tenor, of sweet tone), and of his vivacious rapid looks and pretty
little attitudes and gestures, could altogether reconcile you to, but in
which he persisted through good report and bad."

* * * * *

Perhaps Jeffrey's most famous criticism was the "This will never do" on
Wordsworth; of which Southey wrote to Scott, "Jeffrey, I hear, has
written what his friends call a _crushing_ review of the Excursion. He
might as well seat himself on Skiddaw, and fancy that he crushed the
mountain."

It is obvious, indeed, that the Lake poets had little respect for their
"superior" reviewers; whose opinions, on the other hand, were not
subject to influences from high places. It will be noticed that Jefferey
is even more severe on Southey's Laureate "Lays" than on his "Thalaba."

The review on Moore, quoted below, was followed by formal arrangements
for a duel at Chalk Farm on 11th August, 1806; but the police had orders
to interrupt, and pistols were loaded with paper. Even the semblance of
animosity was not maintained, as we find Moore contributing to the
_Edinburgh_ before the end of the same year.

We fear that the appreciation of Keats was partly influenced by
political considerations; since Leigh Hunt had so emphatically welcomed
him into the camp. It remains, however, a pleasing contrast to the
ferocious onslaught on _Endymion_ of Gifford printed below.

HENRY LORD BROUGHAM
(1779-1868)

Brougham was intimately associated with Jeffrey in the foundation of the
_Edinburgh Review_: he is said to have written eighty articles in the
first twenty numbers, though like all his work, the criticism was spoilt
by egotism and vanity. The fact is that an over-brilliant versatility
injured his work. Combining "in his own person the characters of Solon,
Lycurgus, Demosthenes, Archimedes, Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Chesterfield,
and a great many more," his restless genius accomplished nothing
substantial or sound. His writing was far less careful than his oratory.
A man from whom almost everything was expected, and who was always
before the eye of the public; he has been described as "the God of
Whiggish idolatry," and as "impossible" in society. Harriet Martineau is
unsparing in her criticism of his manners and language; and evidently he
was an inveterate swearer. His enthusiasm for noble causes was
infectious; only, as Coleridge happily expressed it, "because his heart
was placed in what should have been his head, you were never sure of
him--you always doubted his sincerity."

In the Opposition and at the Bar this eloquent energy had full scope,
"but as Lord Chancellor his selfish disloyalty offended his colleagues
while," as O'Connell remarked, "If Brougham knew a little of Law, he
would know a little of everything." Unquestionably his obvious failings
obscured his real eminence, and even hinder us, to-day, from doing full
justice to his memory.

* * * * *

It was the following, somewhat heavy-handed, review which inspired the
_English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_, with all its "extraordinary powers
of malicious statement"--truly a Roland for his Oliver.

SYDNEY SMITH
(1771-1845)

The third founder of the _Edinburgh_ and one of its most aggressive
reviewers, until March, 1827, Sydney Smith has been described as "most
provokingly and audaciously personal in his strictures.... He was too
complacent, too aboundingly self-satisfied, too buoyantly full of
spirits, to hate anybody; but he burlesques them, derides them, and
abuses them with the most exasperating effrontery--in a way that is
great fun to the reader, but exquisite torture to the victim." At the
same time, his wit was always governed by commonsense (its most
prevailing distinction); and, though almost unique among humorists for
his personal gaiety, "his best work was done in promoting practical
ends, and his wit in its airiest gambols never escaped his control."
There was, in fact, considerable independence--and even courage--in his
seriously inspired attacks on various abuses, and on every form of
affectation and cant. Though his manners and conversation were not
precisely those we generally associate with the Cloth, Sydney Smith
published several volumes of sermons, and always accepted the
responsibilities of his position as a clergyman with becoming industry.
Croker's veiled sarcasm in the _Quarterly_ (printed below) was no more
bitter, or truthful, than similar utterances on any Whig.

* * * * *

We know little to-day of--

The sacred dramas of Miss Hannah More
Where Moses and the little muses snore,

but, in her own day, she was flattered in society and a real influence
among the serious-minded. She understood the poor and gave them
practical advice. Sydney Smith, of course, would be in sympathy with her
"good works," but could not resist his joke.

THOMAS BABINGTON LORD MACAULAY
(1800-1859)

To quote one of his own favourite expressions, "every schoolboy knows"
the outlines of Macaulay's life and work. We have recited the Lays,
probably read some of the History, possibly even heard of his eloquent
and unmeasured attacks on those whose literary work incurred his
displeasure. We know that his memory was phenomenal, if his statements
were not always accurate. The biographers tell us further that no one
could be more simple in private life, or more devoted to his own family:
his nephews and nieces having no idea that their favourite "Uncle Tom"
was a great man. Criticism, of course, is by no means so unanimous. Mr.
Augustine Birrell has wittily remarked that his "style is ineffectual
for the purpose of telling the truth about anything"; and James Thomson
epitomised his political bias in a biting paragraph:--"Macaulay,
historiographer in chief to the Whigs, and the great prophet of Whiggery
which never had or will have a prophet, vehemently judged that a man who
could pass over from the celestial Whigs to the infernal Tories must be
a traitor false as Judas, an apostate black as the Devil." Always a boy
at heart, and singularly careless of his appearance, Macaulay was so
phenomenally successful in every direction that envy may account for
most personal criticism not inspired by recognised opponents. Those who
called him a bore were most probably over-sensitive about their own
inability to hold up against arguments, or opinions, they longed to
combat.

He was a student at Lincoln's Inn when the brilliant article on the
translation of a newly-found treatise by Milton on _Christian Doctrine_
appeared in the _Edinburgh_ (1825), and inaugurated a new power in
English prose. Macaulay himself declared that it was "overloaded with
gaudy and ungraceful argument"; but it secured his literary reputation
and determined much of his career. He became an influence on the
_Edinburgh_, probably somewhat modifying its whole tone, and generally
identified with its reputation. "The son of a Saint," says Christopher
North, "who seems himself to be something of a reviewer, is insidious as
the serpent, but fangless, as the glow worm"; and the Tory press were,
naturally, up in arms against the champion critic of their pet
prodigies.

* * * * *

_Southey_ received, as we must now admit, more than his fair share of
abuse from the Liberal press, for the comfortable conservatism of his
maturity; and Macaulay did not love the Laureate. We note that
_Blackwood's_ defended him with spirit, and Wilson's protracted, and
furious, attack on Macaulay for this particular review may be found in
the _Nodes Ambrosianae_, April, 1830.

_Croker_, in all probability, deserved much of the scorn here poured
upon his editorial labour (though it _had_ merits which his critic
deliberately ignores); Wilson, again _(Noctes Ambrosianae,_ November,
1831), examines, and professes to confute, almost every criticism in the
review. Croker himself found a convenient occasion for revenge in his
review of Macaulay's History printed below.

The interesting recognition of _Gladstone_ awakes pleasanter sentiments;
especially when we notice the return compliment (in the same
_Quarterly_, but twenty-seven years later than Croker's attack) of the
statesman's generous tribute. "Macaulay," says Gladstone, "was
singularly free of vices ... one point only we reserve, a certain tinge
of occasional vindictiveness. Was he envious? Never. Was he servile? No.
Was he insolent? No.... Was he idle? The question is ridiculous. Was he
false? No; but true as steel and transparent as crystal. Was he vain? We
hold that he was not. At every point in the ugly list he stands the
trial."

* * * * *

ANONYMOUS

This earlier notice of Wordsworth is certainly in exact sympathy with
Jeffrey on the Excursion, and may very well have come from the same pen.
At any rate, it introduces the Edinburgh attitude towards the Lakers.

The criticism of Maturin has all the tone of moral authority which
provoked many readers of the Review, and was, probably, in part
responsible for the less "measured" attitude adopted by the _Quarterly_.

LORD JEFFREY ON SOUTHEY'S "THALABA"

[From _The Edinburgh Review_, October, 1802]

_Thalaba, the Destroyer: A Metrical Romance_. By ROBERT SOUTHEY. 2 vols.
12 mo. London.

Poetry has this much, at least, in common with religion, that its
standards were fixed long ago, by certain inspired writers, whose
authority it is no longer lawful to call in question; and that many
profess to be entirely devoted to it, who have no _good works_ to
produce in support of their pretensions. The catholic poetical church,
too, has worked but few miracles since the first ages of its
establishment; and has been more prolific, for a long time, of Doctors,
than of Saints: it has had its corruptions and reformation also, and has
given birth to an infinite variety of heresies and errors, the followers
of which have hated and persecuted each other as cordially as other
bigots.

The author who is now before us, belongs to a _sect_ of poets, that has
established itself in this country within these ten or twelve years, and
is looked upon, we believe, as one of its chief champions and apostles.
The peculiar doctrines of this sect, it would not, perhaps, be very easy
to explain; but, that they are _dissenters_ from the established systems
in poetry and criticism, is admitted, and proved indeed, by the whole
tenor of their compositions. Though they lay claim, we believe, to a
creed and a revelation of their own, there can be little doubt, that
their doctrines are of _German_ origin, and have been derived from some
of the great modern reformers in that country. Some of their leading
principles, indeed, are probably of an earlier date, and seem to have
been borrowed from the great apostle of Geneva. As Mr. Southey is the
first author, of this persuasion, that has yet been brought before us
for judgment, we cannot discharge our inquisitorial office
conscientiously, without premising a few words upon the nature and
tendency of the tenets he has helped to promulgate.

The disciples of this school boast much of its originality, and seem to
value themselves very highly, for having broken loose from the bondage
of ancient authority, and re-asserted the independence of genius.
Originality, however, we are persuaded, is rarer than mere alteration;
and a man may change a good master for a bad one, without finding
himself at all nearer to independence. That our new poets have abandoned
the old models, may certainly be admitted; but we have not been able to
discover that they have yet created any models of their own; and are
very much inclined to call in question the worthiness of those to which
they have transferred their admiration. The productions of this school,
we conceive, are so far from being entitled to the praise of
originality, that they cannot be better characterised, than by an
enumeration of the sources from which their materials have been derived.
The greater part of them, we apprehend, will be found to be composed of
the following elements: (1) The antisocial principles, and distempered
sensibility of Rousseau--his discontent with the present constitution of
society--his paradoxical morality, and his perpetual hankerings after
some unattainable state of voluptuous virtue and perfection. (2) The
simplicity and energy (_horresco referens_) of Kotzebue and Schiller.
(3) The homeliness and harshness of some of Cowper's language and
versification, interchanged occasionally with the _innocence_ of Ambrose
Philips, or the quaintness of Quarles and Dr. Donne. From the diligent
study of these few originals, we have no doubt that an entire art of
poetry may be collected, by the assistance of which, the very _gentlest_
of our readers may soon be qualified to compose a poem as correctly
versified as Thalaba, and to deal out sentiment and description, with
all the sweetness of Lamb, and all the magnificence of Coleridge.

The authors, of whom we are now speaking, have, among them,
unquestionably, a very considerable portion of poetical talent, and
have, consequently, been enabled to seduce many into an admiration of
the false taste (as it appears to us) in which most of their productions
are composed. They constitute, at present, the most formidable
conspiracy that has lately been formed against sound judgment in matters
poetical; and are entitled to a larger share of our censorial notice,
than could be spared for an individual delinquent. We shall hope for the
indulgence of our readers, therefore, in taking this opportunity to
inquire a little more particularly into their merits, and to make a few
remarks upon those peculiarities which seem to be regarded by their
admirers as the surest proofs of their excellence.

Their most distinguishing symbol, is undoubtedly an affectation of great
simplicity and familiarity of language. They disdain to make use of the
common poetical phraseology, or to ennoble their diction by a selection
of fine or dignified expressions. There would be too much _art_ in this,
for that great love of nature with which they are all of them inspired;
and their sentiments, they are determined shall be indebted, for their
effect, to nothing but their intrinsic tenderness or elevation. There is
something very noble and conscientious, we will confess, in this plan of
composition; but the misfortune is, that there are passages in all
poems, that can neither be pathetic nor sublime; and that, on these
occasions, a neglect of the embellishments of language is very apt to
produce absolute meanness and insipidity. The language of passion,
indeed, can scarcely be deficient in elevation; and when an author is
wanting in that particular, he may commonly be presumed to have failed
in the truth, as well as in the dignity of his expression. The case,
however, is extremely different with the subordinate parts of a
composition; with the narrative and description, that are necessary to
preserve its connection; and the explanation, that must frequently
prepare us for the great scenes and splendid passages. In these, all the
requisite ideas may be conveyed, with sufficient clearness, by the
meanest and most negligent expressions; and if magnificence or beauty is
ever to be observed in them, it must have been introduced from some
other motive than that of adapting the style to the subject. It is in
such passages, accordingly, that we are most frequently offended with
low and inelegant expressions; and that the language, which was intended
to be simple and natural, is found oftenest to degenerate into mere
slovenliness and vulgarity. It is in vain, too, to expect that the
meanness of those parts may be redeemed by the excellence of others. A
poet, who aims at all at sublimity or pathos, is like an actor in a high
tragic character, and must sustain his dignity throughout, or become
altogether ridiculous. We are apt enough to laugh at the mock-majesty of
those whom we know to be but common mortals in private; and cannot
permit Hamlet to make use of a single provincial intonation, although it
should only be in his conversation with the grave-diggers.

The followers of simplicity are, therefore, at all times in danger of
occasional degradation; but the simplicity of this new school seems
intended to ensure it. _Their_ simplicity does not consist, by any
means, in the rejection of glaring or superfluous ornament--in the
substitution of elegance to splendour, or in that refinement of art
which seeks concealment in its own perfection. It consists, on the
contrary, in a very great degree, in the positive and _bona fide_
rejection of art altogether, and in the bold use of those rude and
negligent expressions, which would be banished by a little
discrimination. One of their own authors, indeed, has very ingeniously
set forth (in a kind of manifesto that preceded one of their most
flagrant acts of hostility), that it was their capital object "to adapt
to the uses of poetry, the ordinary language of conversation among the
middling and lower orders of the people." What advantages are to be
gained by the success of this project, we confess ourselves unable to
conjecture. The language of the higher and more cultivated orders may
fairly be presumed to be better than that of their inferiors: at any
rate, it has all those associations in its favour, by means of which, a
style can ever appear beautiful or exalted, and is adapted to the
purposes of poetry, by having been long consecrated to its use. The
language of the vulgar, on the other hand, has all the opposite
associations to contend with; and must seem unfit for poetry (if there
were no other reason), merely because it has scarcely ever been employed
in it. A great genius may indeed overcome these disadvantages; but we
can scarcely conceive that he should court them. We may excuse a certain
homeliness of language in the productions of a ploughman or a milkwoman;
but we cannot bring ourselves to admire it in an author, who has had
occasion to indite odes to his college bell, and inscribe hymns to the
Penates.

But the mischief of this new system is not confined to the depravation
of language only; it extends to the sentiments and emotions, and leads
to the debasement of all those feelings which poetry is designed to
communicate. It is absurd to suppose, that an author should make use of
the language of the vulgar, to express the sentiments of the refined.
His professed object, in employing that language, is to bring his
compositions nearer to the true standard of nature; and his intention to
copy the sentiments of the lower orders, is implied in his resolution to
make use of their style. Now, the different classes of society have each
of them a distinct character, as well as a separate idiom; and the names
of the various passions to which they are subject respectively, have a
signification that varies essentially according to the condition of the
persons to whom they are applied. The love, or grief, or indignation of
an enlightened and refined character, is not only expressed in a
different language, but is in itself a different emotion from the love,
or grief, or anger, of a clown, a tradesman, or a market-wench. The
things themselves are radically and obviously distinct; and the
representation of them is calculated to convey a very different train of
sympathies and sensations to the mind. The question, therefore, comes
simply to be--which of them is the most proper object for poetical
imitation? It is needless for us to answer a question, which the
practice of all the world has long ago decided irrevocably. The poor and
vulgar may interest us, in poetry, by their _situation_; but never, we
apprehend, by any sentiments that are peculiar to their condition, and
still less by any language that is characteristic of it. The truth is,
that it is impossible to copy their diction or their sentiments
correctly, in a serious composition; and this, not merely because
poverty makes men ridiculous, but because just taste and refined
sentiment are rarely to be met with among the uncultivated part of
mankind; and a language, fitted for their expression, can still more
rarely form any part of their "ordinary conversation."

The low-bred heroes, and interesting rustics of poetry, have no sort of
affinity to the real vulgar of this world; they are imaginary beings,
whose characters and language are in contrast with their situation; and
please those who can be pleased with them, by the marvellous, and not by
the nature of such a combination. In serious poetry, a man of the
middling or lower order _must necessarily_ lay aside a great deal of his
ordinary language; he must avoid errors in grammar and orthography; and
steer clear of the cant of particular professions, and of every
impropriety that is ludicrous or disgusting: nay, he must speak in good
verse, and observe all the graces in prosody and collocation. After all
this, it may not be very easy to say how we are to find him out to be a
low man, or what marks can remain of the ordinary language of
conversation in the inferior orders of society. If there be any phrases
that are not used in good society, they will appear as blemishes in the
composition, no less palpably, than errors in syntax or quality; and, if
there be no such phrases, the style cannot be characteristic of that
condition of life, the language of which it professes to have adopted.
All approximation to that language, in the same manner, implies a
deviation from that purity and precision, which no one, we believe, ever
violated spontaneously.

It has been argued, indeed (for men will argue in support of what they
do not venture to practise), that as the middling and lower orders of
society constitute by far the greater part of mankind, so, their
feelings and expressions should interest more extensively, and may be
taken, more fairly than any other, for the standards of what is natural
and true. To this it seems obvious to answer, that the arts that aim at
exciting admiration and delight, do not take their models from what is
ordinary, but from what is excellent; and that our interest in the
representation of any event, does not depend upon our familiarity with
the original, but on its intrinsic importance, and the celebrity of the
parties it concerns. The sculptor employs his art in delineating the
graces of Antinous or Apollo, and not in the representation of those
ordinary forms that belong to the crowd of his admirers. When a
chieftain perishes in battle, his followers mourn more for him, than for
thousands of their equals that may have fallen around him.

After all, it must be admitted, that there is a class of persons (we are
afraid they cannot be called _readers_), to whom the representation of
vulgar manners, in vulgar language, will afford much entertainment. We
are afraid, however, that the ingenious writers who supply the hawkers
and ballad-singers, have very nearly monopolised that department, and
are probably better qualified to hit the taste of their customers, than
Mr. Southey, or any of his brethren, can yet pretend to be. To fit them
for the higher task of original composition, it would not be amiss if
they were to undertake a translation of Pope or Milton into the vulgar
tongue, for the benefit of those children of nature.

There is another disagreeable effect of this affected simplicity, which,
though of less importance than those which have been already noticed, it
may yet be worth while to mention: This is, the extreme difficulty of
supporting the same low tone of expression throughout, and the
inequality that is consequently introduced into the texture of the
composition. To an author of reading and education, it is a style that
must always be assumed and unnatural, and one from which he will be
perpetually tempted to deviate. He will rise, therefore, every now and
then, above the level to which he has professedly degraded himself; and
make amends for that transgression, by a fresh effort of descension. His
composition, in short, will be like that of a person who is attempting
to speak in an obsolete or provincial dialect; he will betray himself by
expressions of occasional purity and elegance, and exert himself to
efface that impression, by passages of unnatural meanness or absurdity.

In making these strictures on the perverted taste for simplicity, that
seems to distinguish our modern school of poetry, we have no particular
allusion to Mr. Southey, or the production now before us: On the
contrary, he appears to us, to be less addicted to this fault than most
of his fraternity; and if we were in want of examples to illustrate the
preceding observations, we should certainly look for them in the
effusions of that poet who commemorates, with so much effect, the
chattering of Harry Gill's teeth, tells the tale of the one-eyed
huntsman "who had a cheek like a cherry," and beautifully warns his
studious friend of the risk he ran of "growing double."

* * * * *

The _style_ of our modern poets, is that, no doubt, by which they are
most easily distinguished: but their genius has also an internal
character; and the peculiarities of their taste may be discovered,
without the assistance of their diction. Next after great familiarity of
language, there is nothing that appears to them so meritorious as
perpetual exaggeration of thought. There must be nothing moderate,
natural, or easy, about their sentiments. There must be a "qu'il
mourut," and a "let there be light," in every line; and all their
characters must be in agonies and ecstasies, from their entrance to
their exit. To those who are acquainted with their productions, it is
needless to speak of the fatigue that is produced by this unceasing
summons to admiration, or of the compassion which is excited by the
spectacle of these eternal strainings and distortions. Those authors
appear to forget, that a whole poem cannot be made up of striking
passages; and that the sensations produced by sublimity, are never so
powerful and entire, as when they are allowed to subside and revive, in
a slow and spontaneous succession. It is delightful, now and then, to
meet with a rugged mountain, or a roaring stream; but where there is no
funny slope, nor shaded plain, to relieve them--where all is beetling
cliff and yawning abyss, and the landscape presents nothing on every
side but prodigies and terrors--the head is apt to gow giddy, and the
heart to languish for the repose and security of a less elevated region.

The effect even of genuine sublimity, therefore, is impaired by the
injudicious frequency of its exhibition, and the omission of those
intervals and breathing-places, at which the mind should be permitted to
recover from its perturbation or astonishment: but, where it has been
summoned upon a false alarm, and disturbed in the orderly course of its
attention, by an impotent attempt at elevation, the consequences are
still more disastrous. There is nothing so ridiculous (at least for a
poet) as to fail in great attempts. If the reader foresaw the failure,
he may receive some degree of mischievous satisfaction from its punctual
occurrence; if he did not, he will be vexed and disappointed; and, in
both cases, he will very speedily be disgusted and fatigued. It would be
going too far, certainly, to maintain, that our modern poets have never
succeeded in their persevering endeavours at elevation and emphasis; but
it is a melancholy fact, that their successes bear but a small
proportion to their miscarriages; and that the reader who has been
promised an energetic sentiment, or sublime allusion, must often be
contented with a very miserable substitute. Of the many contrivances
they employ to give the appearance of uncommon force and animation to a
very ordinary conception, the most usual is, to wrap it up in a veil of
mysterious and unintelligible language, which flows past with so much
solemnity, that it is difficult to believe it conveys nothing of any
value. Another device for improving the effect of a cold idea, is, to
embody it in a verse of unusual harshness and asperity. Compound words,
too, of a portentous sound and conformation, are very useful in giving
an air of energy and originality; and a few lines of scripture, written
out into verse from the original prose, have been found to have a very
happy effect upon those readers to whom they have the recommendation of
novelty.

The qualities of style and imagery, however, form but a small part of
the characteristics by which a literary faction is to be distinguished.
The subject and object of their compositions, and the principles and
opinions they are calculated to support, constitute a far more important
criterion, and one to which it is usually altogether as easy to refer.
Some poets are sufficiently described as the flatterers of greatness and
power, and others as the champions of independence. One set of writers
is known by its antipathy to decency and religion; another, by its
methodistical cant and intolerance. Our new school of poetry has a moral
character also; though it may not be possible, perhaps, to delineate it
quite so concisely.

A splenetic and idle discontent with the existing institutions of
society, seems to be at the bottom of all their serious and peculiar
sentiments. Instead of contemplating the wonders and the pleasures which
civilization has created for mankind, they are perpetually brooding over
the disorders by which its progress has been attended. They are filled
with horror and compassion at the sight of poor men spending their blood
in the quarrels of princes, and brutifying their sublime capabilities in
the drudgery of unremitting labour. For all sorts of vice and profligacy
in the lower orders of society, they have the same virtuous horror, and
the same tender compassion. While the existence of these offences
overpowers them with grief and confusion, they never permit themselves
to feel the smallest indignation or dislike towards the offenders. The
present vicious constitution of society alone is responsible for all
these enormities: the poor sinners are but the helpless victims or
instruments of its disorders, and could not possibly have avoided the
errors into which they have been betrayed. Though they can bear with
crimes, therefore, they cannot reconcile themselves to punishments; and
have an unconquerable antipathy to prisons, gibbets, and houses of
correction, as engines of oppression, and instruments of atrocious
injustice. While the plea of moral necessity is thus artfully brought
forward to convert all the excesses of the poor into innocent
misfortunes, no sort of indulgence is shown to the offences of the
powerful and rich. Their oppressions, and seductions, and debaucheries,
are the theme of many an angry verse; and the indignation and abhorrence
of the reader is relentlessly conjured up against those perturbators of
society, and scourges of mankind.

It is not easy to say, whether the fundamental absurdity of this
doctrine, or the partiality of its application, be entitled to the
severest reprehension. If men are driven to commit crimes, through a
certain moral necessity; other men are compelled, by a similar
necessity, to hate and despise them for their commission. The
indignation of the sufferer is at least as natural as the guilt of him
who makes him suffer; and the good order of society would probably be as
well preserved, if our sympathies were sometimes called forth in behalf
of the former. At all events, the same apology ought certainly to be
admitted for the wealthy, as for the needy offender. They are subject
alike to the overruling influence of necessity, and equally affected by
the miserable condition of society. If it be natural for a poor man to
murder and rob, in order to make himself comfortable, it is no less
natural for a rich man to gormandise and domineer, in order to have the
full use of his riches. Wealth is just as valid an excuse for the one
class of vices, as indigence is for the other. There are many other
peculiarities of false sentiment in the productions of this class of
writers, that are sufficiently deserving of commemoration; but we have
already exceeded our limits in giving these general indications of their
character, and must now hasten back to the consideration of the singular
performance which has given occasion to all this discussion.

The first thing that strikes the reader of Thalaba, is the singular
structure of the versification, which is a jumble of all the measures
that are known in English poetry (and a few more), without rhyme, and
without any sort of regularity in their arrangement. Blank odes have
been known in this country about as long as English sapphics and
dactylics; and both have been considered, we believe, as a species of
monsters, or exotics, that were not very likely to propagate, or thrive,
in so unpropitious a climate. Mr. Southey, however, has made a vigorous
effort for their naturalisation, and generously endangered his own
reputation in their behalf. The melancholy fate of his English sapphics,
we believe, is but too generally known; and we can scarcely predict a
more favourable issue to the present experiment. Every combination of
different measures is apt to perplex and disturb the reader who is not
familiar with it; and we are never reconciled to a stanza of a new
structure, till we have accustomed our ear to it by two or three
repetitions. This is the case, even where we have the assistance of
rhyme to direct us in our search after regularity, and where the
definite form and appearance of a stanza assures us that regularity is
to be found. Where both of these are wanting, it may be imagined that
our condition will be still more deplorable; and a compassionate author
might even excuse us, if we were unable to distinguish this kind of
verse from prose. In reading verse, in general, we are guided to the
discovery of its melody, by a sort of preconception of its cadence and
compass; without which, it might often fail to be suggested by the mere
articulation of the syllables. If there be any one, whose recollection
does not furnish him with evidence of this fact, he may put it to the
test of experiment, by desiring any of his illiterate acquaintances to
read off some of Mr. Southey's dactylics, or Sir Philip Sidney's
hexameters. It is the same thing with the more unusual measures of the
ancient authors. We have never known any one who fell in, at the first
trial, with the proper rhyme and cadence of the _pervigilium Veneris_,
or the choral lyrics of the Greek dramatists. The difficulty, however,
is virtually the same, as to every new combination; and it is an
unsurmountable difficulty, where such new combinations are not repeated
with any degree of uniformity, but are multiplied, through the whole
composition, with an unbounded licence of variation. Such, however, is
confessedly the case with the work before us; and it really seems
unnecessary to make any other remark on its versification.

The author, however, entertains a different opinion of it. So far from
apprehending that it may cost his readers some trouble to convince
themselves that the greater part of the book is not mere prose, written
out into the form of verse, he is persuaded that its melody is more
obvious and perceptible than that of our vulgar measures. "One
advantage," says Mr. Southey, "this metre _assuredly_ possesses; the
dullest reader cannot distort it into discord: he may read it with a
_prose mouth_, but its flow and fall will still be perceptible." We are
afraid, there are duller readers in the world than Mr. Southey is aware
of.

* * * * *

The subject of this poem is almost as ill chosen as the diction; and the
conduct of the fable as disorderly as the versification. The corporation
of magicians, that inhabit "the Domdaniel caverns, under the roots of
the ocean," had discovered, that a terrible _destroyer_ was likely to
rise up against them from the seed of Hodeirah, a worthy Arab, with
eight fine children. Immediately the murder of all those innocents is
resolved on; and a sturdy assassin sent with instructions to destroy the
whole family (as Mr. Southey has it) "root and branch." The good man,
accordingly, and seven of his children, are dispatched; but a cloud
comes over the mother and the remaining child; and the poem opens with
the picture of the widow and her orphan wandering, by night, over the
desarts of Arabia. The old lady, indeed, might as well have fallen under
the dagger of the Domdanielite; for she dies, without doing anything for
her child, in the end of the first book; and little Thalaba is left
crying in the wilderness. Here he is picked up by a good old Arab, who
takes him home, and educates him like a pious mussulman; and he and the
old man's daughter fall in love with each other, according to the
invariable custom in all such cases. The magicians, in the meantime, are
hunting him over the face of the whole earth; and one of them gets near
enough to draw his dagger to stab him, when a providential _simoom_ lays
him dead on the sand. From the dead sorcerer's finger, Thalaba takes a
ring, inscribed with some unintelligible characters, which he is enabled
to interpret by the help of some other unintelligible characters that he
finds on the forehead of a locust; and soon after takes advantage of an
eclipse of the sun, to set out on his expedition against his father's
murderers, whom he understands (we do not very well know how) he has
been commissioned to exterminate. Though they are thus seeking him, and
he seeking them, it is amazing what difficulty they find in meeting:
they do meet, however, every now and then, and many sore evils does the
Destroyer suffer at their hands. By faith and fortitude, however, and
the occasional assistance of the magic implements he strips them of, he
is enabled to baffle and elude their malice, till he is conducted, at
last, to the Domdaniel cavern, where he finds them assembled, and pulls
down the roof of it upon their heads and his own; perishing, like
Samson, in the final destruction of his enemies.

From this little sketch of the story, our readers will easily perceive,
that it consists altogether of the most wild and extravagant fictions,
and openly sets nature and probability at defiance. In its action, it is
not an imitation of anything; and excludes all rational criticism, as to
the choice and succession of its incidents. Tales of this sort may amuse
children, and interest, for a moment, by the prodigies they exhibit, and
the multitude of events they bring together: but the interest expires
with the novelty; and attention is frequently exhausted, even before
curiosity has been gratified. The pleasure afforded by performances of
this sort, is very much akin to that which may be derived from the
exhibition of a harlequin farce; where, instead of just imitations of
nature and human character, we are entertained with the transformation
of cauliflowers and beer-barrels, the apparition of ghosts and devils,
and all the other magic of the wooden sword. Those who can prefer this
eternal sorcery, to the just and modest representation of human actions
and passions, will probably take more delight in walking among the holly
griffins, and yew sphinxes of the city gardener, than in ranging among
the groves and lawns which have been laid out by a hand that feared to
violate nature, as much as it aspired to embellish her; and disdained
the easy art of startling by novelties, and surprising by impropriety.

Supernatural beings, though easily enough raised, are known to be very
troublesome in the management, and have frequently occasioned much
perplexity to poets and other persons who have been rash enough to call
for their assistance. It is no very easy matter to preserve consistency
in the disposal of powers, with the limits of which we are so far from
being familiar; and when it is necessary to represent our spiritual
persons as ignorant, or suffering, we are very apt to forget the
knowledge and the powers with which we had formerly invested them. The
ancient poets had several unlucky rencounters of this sort with Destiny
and the other deities; and Milton himself is not a little hampered with
the material and immaterial qualities of his angels. Enchanters and
witches may, at first sight, appear more manageable; but Mr. Southey has
had difficulty enough with them; and cannot be said, after all, to have
kept his fable quite clear and intelligible. The stars had said, that
the Destroyer might be cut off in that hour when his father and brethren
were assassinated; yet he is saved by a special interposition of heaven.
Heaven itself, however, had destined him to extirpate the votaries of
Eblis; and yet, long before this work is done, a special message is sent
to him, declaring, that, if he chooses, the death-angel is ready to take
him away instead of the sorcerer's daughter. In the beginning of the
story, too, the magicians are quite at a loss where to look for him; and
Abdaldar only discovers him by accident, after a long search; yet, no
sooner does he leave the old Arab's tent, than Lobaba comes up to him,
disguised and prepared for his destruction. The witches have also a
decoy ready for him in the desart; yet he sups with Okba's daughter,
without any of the sorcerers being aware of it; and afterwards proceeds
to consult the simorg, without meeting with any obstacle or molestation.
The simoom kills Abdaldar, too, in spite of that ring which afterwards
protects Thalaba from lightning, and violence, and magic. The
Destroyer's arrow then falls blunted from Lobaba's breast, who is
knocked down, however, by a shower of sand of his own raising; and this
same arrow, which could make no impression on the sorcerer, kills the
magic bird of Aloadin, and pierces the rebellious _spirit_ that guarded
the Domdaniel door. The whole infernal band, indeed, is very feebly and
heavily pourtrayed. They are a set of stupid, undignified, miserable
wretches, quarrelling with each other, and trembling in the prospect of
inevitable destruction. None of them even appears to have obtained the
price of their self-sacrifice in worldly honours and advancement, except
Mohareb; and he, though assured by destiny that there was one death-blow
appointed for him and Thalaba, is yet represented, in the concluding
scene, as engaged with him in furious combat, and aiming many a deadly
blow at that life on which his own was dependent. If the innocent
characters in this poem were not delineated with more truth and feeling,
the notoriety of the author would scarcely have induced us to bestow so
much time on its examination.

Though the tissue of adventures through which Thalaba is conducted in
the course of this production, be sufficiently various and
extraordinary, we must not set down any part of the incidents to the
credit of the author's invention. He has taken great pains, indeed, to
guard against such a supposition; and has been as scrupulously correct
in the citation of his authorities, as if he were the compiler of a true
history, and thought his reputation would be ruined by the imputation of
a single fiction. There is not a prodigy, accordingly, or a description,
for which he does not fairly produce his vouchers, and generally lays
before his readers the whole original passage from which his imitation
has been taken. In this way, it turns out, that the book is entirely
composed of scraps, borrowed from the oriental tale books, and travels
into the Mahometan countries, seasoned up for the English reader with
some fragments of our own ballads, and shreds of our older sermons. The
composition and harmony of the work, accordingly, is much like the
pattern of that patch-work drapery that is sometimes to be met with in
the mansions of the industrious, where a blue tree overshadows a
shell-fish, and a gigantic butterfly seems ready to swallow up Palemon
and Lavinia. The author has the merit merely of cutting out each of his
figures from the piece where its inventor had placed it, and stitching
them down together in these judicious combinations.

It is impossible to peruse this poem, with the notes, without feeling
that it is the fruit of much reading, undertaken for the express purpose
of fabricating some such performance. The author has set out with a
resolution to make an oriental story, and a determination to find the
materials of it in the books to which he had access. Every incident,
therefore, and description--every superstitious usage, or singular
tradition, that appeared to him susceptible of poetical embellishment,
or capable of picturesque representation, he has set down for this
purpose, and adopted such a fable and plan of composition, as might
enable him to work up all his materials, and interweave every one of his
quotations, without any _extraordinary_ violation of unity or order.
When he had filled his common-place book, he began to write; and his
poem is little else than his common-place book versified.

It may easily be imagined, that a poem constructed upon such a plan,
must be full of cumbrous and misplaced description, and overloaded with
a crowd of incidents equally unmeaning and ill assorted. The tedious
account of the palace of Shedad, in the first book--the description of
the Summer and Winter occupations of the Arabs, in the third--the
ill-told story of Haruth and Maruth--the greater part of the occurrences
in the island of Mohareb--the paradise of Aloadin, etc., etc.--are all
instances of disproportioned and injudicious ornaments, which never
could have presented themselves to an author who wrote from the
suggestions of his own fancy; and have evidently been introduced, from
the author's unwillingness to relinquish the corresponding passages in
D'Herbelot, Sale, Volney, etc., which appeared to him to have great
capabilities for poetry.

This imitation, or admiration of Oriental imagery, however, does not
bring so much suspicion on his taste, as the affection he betrays for
some of his domestic models. The former has, for the most part, the
recommendation of novelty; and there is always a certain pleasure in
contemplating the _costume_ of a distant nation, and the luxuriant
landscape of an Asiatic climate. We cannot find the same apology,
however, for Mr. Southey's partiality to the drawling vulgarity of some
of our old English ditties.

* * * * *

From the extracts and observations which we have hitherto presented to
our readers, it will be natural for them to conclude, that our opinion
of this poem is very decidedly unfavourable; and that we are not
disposed to allow it any sort of merit. This, however, is by no means
the case. We think it written, indeed, in a very vicious taste, and
liable, upon the whole, to very formidable objections: But it would not
be doing justice to the genius of the author, if we were not to add,
that, it contains passages of very singular beauty and force, and
displays a richness of poetical conception, that would do honour to more
faultless compositions. There is little of human character in the poem,
indeed; because Thalaba is a solitary wanderer from the solitary tent of
his protector: But the home group, in which his infancy was spent, is
pleasingly delineated; and there is something irresistibly interesting
in the innocent love, and misfortunes, and fate of his Oneiza. The
catastrophe of her story is given, it appears to us, with great spirit
and effect, though the beauties are of that questionable kind, that
trespass on the border of impropriety, and partake more of the character
of dramatic, than of narrative poetry. After delivering her from the
polluted paradise of Aloadin, he prevails on her to marry him before his
mission is accomplished. She consents with great reluctance; and the
marriage feast, with its processions, songs, and ceremonies, is
described in some joyous stanzas. The book ends with these verses--

And now the marriage feast is spread,
And from the finished banquet now
The wedding guests are gone.
* * * * *
Who comes from the bridal chamber?
It is Azrael, the Angel of Death.

The next book opens with Thalaba lying distracted upon her grave, in the
neighbourhood of which he had wandered, till "the sun, and the wind,
and the rain, had rusted his raven locks"; and there he is found by the
father of his bride, and visited by her ghost, and soothed and
encouraged to proceed upon his holy enterprise. He sets out on his
lonely way, and is entertained the first night by a venerable dervise:
As they are sitting at meal, a _bridal procession_ passes by, with
dance, and song, and merriment. The old dervise blessed them as they
passed; but Thalaba looked on, "and breathed a low deep groan, and hid
his face." These incidents are skilfully imagined, and are narrated in a
very impressive manner.

Though the _witchery_ scenes are in general but poorly executed, and
possess little novelty to those who have read the Arabian Nights
Entertainments, there is, occasionally, some fine description, and
striking combination. We do not remember any poem, indeed, that
presents, throughout, a greater number of lively images, or could afford
so many subjects for the pencil.

* * * * *

All the productions of this author, it appears to us, bear very
distinctly the impression of an amiable mind, a cultivated fancy, and a
perverted taste. His genius seems naturally to delight in the
representation of domestic virtues and pleasures, and the brilliant
delineation of external nature. In both these departments, he is
frequently very successful; but he seems to want vigour for the loftier
flights of poetry. He is often puerile, diffuse, and artificial, and
seems to have but little acquaintance with those chaster and severer
graces, by whom the epic muse would be most suitably attended. His
faults are always aggravated, and often created, by his partiality for
the peculiar manner of that new school of poetry, of which he is a
faithful disciple, and to the glory of which he has sacrificed greater
talents and acquisitions, than can be boasted of by any of his
associates.

ON SOUTHEY'S LAUREATE LAYS

[From _The Edinburgh Review_, June, 1816]

_The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale_. By ROBERT SOUTHEY, Esq.,
Poet Laureate, &c., &c. 12mo. pp. 78. London, 1816.

A poet laureate, we take it, is naturally a ridiculous person: and has
scarcely any safe course to follow, in times like the present, but to
bear his faculties with exceeding meekness, and to keep as much as
possible in the shade. A stipendiary officer of the Royal household,
bound to produce two lyrical compositions ever year, in praise of his
Majesty's person and government, is undoubtedly an object which it is
difficult to contemplate with gravity; and which can only have been
retained in existence, from that love of antique pomp and establishment
which has embellished our Court with so many gold-sticks and white rods,
and such trains of beef-eaters and grooms of the stole--though it has
submitted to the suppression of the more sprightly appendages of a
king's fool, or a court jester. That the household poet should have
survived the other wits of the establishment, can only be explained by
the circumstance of his office being more easily converted into one of
mere pomp and ceremony, and coming thus to afford an antient and
well-sounding name for a moderate sinecure. For more than a century,
accordingly, it has existed on this footing; and its duties, like those
of the other personages to whom we have just alluded, have been
discharged with a decorous gravity and unobtrusive quietness, which has
provoked no derision, merely because it has attracted no notice.

The present possessor, however, appears to have other notions on the
subject; and has very distinctly manifested his resolution not to rest
satisfied with the salary, sherry, and safe obscurity of his
predecessors, but to claim a real power and prerogative in the world of
letters, in virtue of his title and appointment. Now, in this, we
conceive, with all due humility, that there is a little mistake of fact,
and a little error of judgment. The laurel which the King gives, we are
credibly informed, has nothing at all in common with that which is
bestowed by the Muses; and the Prince Regent's warrant is absolutely of
no authority in the court of Apollo. If this be the case, however, it
follows, that a poet laureate has no sort of precedency among poets,--
whatever may be his place among pages and clerks of the kitchen;--and
that he has no more pretensions as an author, than if his appointment
had been to the mastership of the stag-hounds. When he takes state upon
him with the public, therefore, in consequence of his office, he really
is guilty of as ludicrous a blunder as the worthy American _Consul_, in
one of the Hanse towns, who painted the Roman _fasces_ on the pannel of
his buggy, and insisted upon calling his foot-boy and clerk his
_lictors_. Except when he is in his official duty, therefore, the King's
house-poet would do well to keep the nature of his office out of sight;
and, when he is compelled to appear in it in public, should try to get
through with the business as quickly and quietly as possible. The brawny
drayman who enacts the Champion of England in the Lord Mayor's show, is
in some danger of being sneered at by the spectators, even when he paces
along with the timidity and sobriety that becomes his condition; but if
he were to take it into his head to make serious boast of his prowess,
and to call upon the city bards to celebrate his heroic acts, the very
apprentices could not restrain their laughter,--and "the humorous man"
would have but small chance of finishing his part in peace.

Mr. Southey could not be ignorant of all this; and yet it appears that
he could not have known it all. He must have been conscious, we think,
of the ridicule attached to his office, and might have known that there
were only two ways of counteracting it,--either by sinking the office
altogether in his public appearances, or by writing such very good
verses in the discharge of it, as might defy ridicule, and render
neglect impossible. Instead of this, however, he has allowed himself to
write rather worse than any Laureate before him, and has betaken himself
to the luckless and vulgar expedient of endeavouring to face out the
thing by an air of prodigious confidence and assumption:--and has had
the usual fortune of such undertakers, by becoming only more
conspicuously ridiculous. The badness of his official productions indeed
is something really wonderful,--though not more so than the amazing
self-complacency and self-praise with which they are given to the world.
With the finest themes in the world for that sort of writing, they are
the dullest, tamest, and most tedious things ever poor critic was
condemned, or other people vainly invited, to read. They are a great
deal more wearisome, and rather more unmeaning and unnatural, than the
effusions of his predecessors, Messrs. Pye and Whitehead; and are
moreover disfigured with the most abominable egotism, conceit and
dogmatism, than we ever met with in any thing intended for the public
eye. They are filled, indeed, with praises of the author himself, and
his works, and his laurel, and his dispositions; notices of his various
virtues and studies; puffs of the productions he is preparing for the
press, and anticipations of the fame which he is to reap by their means,
from a less ungrateful age; and all this delivered with such an oracular
seriousness and assurance, that it is easy to see the worthy Laureate
thinks himself entitled to share in the prerogatives of that royalty
which he is bound to extol, and has resolved to make it

--his great example as it is his theme.

For, as sovereign Princes are permitted, in their manifestoes and
proclamations, to speak of their own gracious pleasure and royal wisdom,
without imputation of arrogance, so, our Laureate has persuaded himself
that he may address the subject world in the same lofty strains, and
that they will listen with as dutiful an awe to the authoritative
exposition of his own genius and glory. What might have been the success
of the experiment, if the execution had been as masterly as the design
is bold, we shall not trouble ourselves to conjecture; but the contrast
between the greatness of the praise and the badness of the poetry in
which it is conveyed, and to which it is partly applied, is abundantly
decisive of its result in the present instance, as well as in all the
others in which the ingenious author has adopted the same style. We took
some notice of the _Carmen Triumphale_, which stood at the head of the
series. But of the Odes which afterwards followed to the Prince Regent,
and the Sovereigns and Generals who came to visit him, we had the
charity to say nothing; and were willing indeed to hope, that the
lamentable failure of that attempt might admonish the author, at least
as effectually as any intimations of ours. Here, however, we have him
again, with a _Lay of the Laureate_, and a _Carmen Nuptiale_, if
possible still more boastful and more dull than any of his other
celebrations. It is necessary, therefore, to bring the case once more
before the Public, for the sake both of correction and example; and as
the work is not likely to find many readers, and is of a tenor which
would not be readily believed upon any general representation, we must
now beg leave to give a faithful analysis of its different parts, with a
few specimens of the taste and manner of its execution.

Its object is to commemorate the late auspicious marriage of the
presumptive Heiress of the English crown with the young Prince of
Saxe-Cobourg; and consists of a Proem, a Dream, and an Epilogue--with a
L'envoy, and various annotations. The Proem, as was most fitting, is
entirely devoted to the praise of the Laureate himself; and contains an
account, which cannot fail to be very interesting, both to his Royal
auditors and to the world at large, of his early studies and
attainments--the excellence of his genius--the nobleness of his views--
and the happiness that has been the result of these precious gifts. Then
there is mention made of his pleasure in being appointed Poet Laureate,
and of the rage and envy which that event excited in all the habitations
of the malignant. This is naturally followed up by a full account of all
his official productions, and some modest doubts whether his genius is
not too heroic and pathetic for the composition of an _Epithalamium,_--
which doubts, however, are speedily and pleasingly resolved by the
recollection, that as Spenser made a hymn on his own marriage, so, there
can be nothing improper in Mr. Southey doing as much on that of the
Princess Charlotte. This is the general argument of the Proem. But the
reader must know a little more of the details. In his early youth, the
ingenious author says he aspired to the fame of a poet; and then Fancy
came to him, and showed him the glories of his future career, addressing
him in these encouraging words--

Thou whom rich Nature at thy happy birth
Blest in her bounty with the largest dower
That Heaven indulges to a child of earth!

Being fully persuaded of the truth of her statements, we have then the
satisfaction of learning that he has lived a very happy life; and that,
though time has made his hair a little grey, it has only matured his
understanding; and that he is still as habitually cheerful as when he
was a boy. He then proceeds to inform us, that he sometimes does a
little in poetry still; but that, of late years, he spends most of his
time in writing histories--from which he has no doubt that he will one
day or another acquire great reputation.

Thus in the ages which are past I live,
And those which are to come my sure reward will give....

We come next, of course, to the Dream; and nothing more stupid or heavy,
we will venture to say, ever arose out of sleep, or tended to sleep
again. The unhappy Laureate, it seems, just saw, upon shutting his eyes,
what he might have seen as well if he had been able to keep them open--a
great crowd of people and coaches in the street, with marriage favours
in their bosoms; church bells ringing merrily, and _feux-de-joie_ firing
in all directions. Eftsoons, says the dreaming poet, I came to a great
door, where there were guards placed to keep off the mob; but when they
saw my Laurel crown, they made way for me, and let me in!--

But I had entrance through that guarded door,
In honour to the Laureate crown I wore.

When he gets in, he finds himself in a large hall, decorated with
trophies, and pictures, and statues, commemorating the triumphs of
British valour, from Aboukir to Waterloo. The room, moreover, was filled
with a great number of ladies and gentlemen very finely dressed; and in
two chairs, near the top, were seated the Princess Charlotte and Prince
Leopold. Hitherto, certainly, all is sufficiently plain and probable;--
nor can the Muse who dictated this to the slumbering Laureate be accused
of any very extravagant or profuse invention. We come, now, however, to
allegory and learning in abundance. In the first place, we are told,
with infinite regard to the probability as well as the novelty of the
fiction, that in this drawing-room there were two great lions couching
at the feet of the Royal Pair;--the Prince's being very lean and in poor
condition, with the hair rubbed off his neck as if from a heavy collar--
and the Princess's in full vigour, with a bushy mane, and littered with
torn French flags. Then there were two heavenly figures stationed on
each side of the throne, one called Honour, and the other Faith;--so
very like each other, that it was impossible not to suppose them brother
and sister. It turns out, however, that they were only second cousins;
or so at least we interpret the following precious piece of theogony.

Akin they were,--yet not as thus it seemed,
For he of VALOUR was the eldest son,
From Arete in happy union sprung.
But her to Phronis Eusebeia bore,
She whom her mother Dice sent to earth;
What marvel then if thus their features wore
Resemblant lineaments of kindred birth?
Dice being child of Him who rules above,
VALOUR his earth-born son; so both derived from Jove.
p. 29.

This, we think, is delicious; but there is still more goodly stuff
toward. The two heavenly cousins stand still without doing any thing;
but then there is a sound of sweet music, and a whole "heavenly company"
appear, led on by a majestic female, whom we discover, by the emblems on
our halfpence, to be no less a person than Britannia, who advances and
addresses a long discourse of flattery and admonition to the Royal
bride; which, for the most part, is as dull and commonplace as might be
expected from the occasion; though there are some passages in which the
author has reconciled his gratitude to his Patron, and his monitory duty
to his Daughter, with singular spirit and delicacy. After enjoining to
her the observance of all public duties, and the cultivation of all
domestic virtues, Britannia is made to sum up the whole sermon in this
emphatic precept--

Look to thy Sire, and in his steady way
--learn thou to tread.

Now, considering that Mr. Southey was at all events incapable of
sacrificing truth to Court favour, it cannot but be regarded as a rare
felicity in his subject, that he could thus select a pattern of private
purity and public honour in the person of the actual Sovereign, without
incurring the least suspicion either of base adulation or lax
morality....

It is impossible to feel any serious or general contempt for a person of
Mr. Southey's genius;--and, in reviewing his other works, we hope we
have shown a proper sense of his many merits and accomplishments. But
his Laureate odes are utterly and intolerably bad; and, if he had never
written any thing else, must have ranked him below Colley Cibber in
genius, and above him in conceit and presumption. We have no toleration
for this sort of perversity, or prostitution of great gifts; and do not
think it necessary to qualify the expression of opinions which we have
formed with as much positiveness as deliberation.--We earnestly wish he
would resign his livery laurel to Lord Thurlow, and write no more odes
on Court galas. We can assure him too, most sincerely, that this wish is
not dictated in any degree by envy, or any other hostile or selfish
feeling. We are ourselves, it is but too well known, altogether without
pretensions to that high office--and really see no great charms either
in the salary or the connexion--and, for the glory of writing such
verses as we have now been reviewing, we do not believe that there is a
scribbler in the kingdom so vile as to think it a thing to be coveted.

ON THOMAS MOORE

[From _The Edinburgh Review_, July, 1806]

_Epistles, Odes, and other Poems_. By THOMAS MOORE, Esq. 4to. pp. 350.
London, 1806.

A singular sweetness and melody of versification,--smooth, copious, and
familiar diction,--with some brilliancy of fancy, and some show of
classical erudition, might have raised Mr. Moore to an innocent
distinction among the song-writers and occasional poets of his day: But
he is indebted, we fear, for the celebrity he actually enjoys to
accomplishments of a different description; and may boast, if the boast
can please him, of being the most licentious of modern versifiers, and
the most poetical of those who, in our times, have devoted their talents
to the propagation of immorality. We regard his book, indeed, as a
public nuisance; and would willingly trample it down by one short
movement of contempt and indignation, had we not reason to apprehend,
that it was abetted by patrons who are entitled to a more respectful
remonstrance, and by admirers who may require a more extended exposition
of their dangers.

There is nothing, it will be allowed, more indefensible than a
cold-blooded attempt to corrupt the purity of an innocent heart; and we
can scarcely conceive any being more truly despicable, than he who,
without the apology of unruly passion or tumultuous desires, sits down
to ransack the impure places of his memory for inflammatory images and
expressions, and commits them laboriously to writing, for the purpose of
insinuating pollution into the minds of unknown and unsuspecting
readers.

This is almost a new crime among us. While France has to blush for so
many tomes of "Poesies Erotiques," we have little to answer for, but the
coarse indecencies of Rochester and Dryden; and these, though
sufficiently offensive to delicacy and good taste, can scarcely be
regarded as dangerous. There is an antidote to the poison they contain,
in the open and undisguised profligacy with which it is presented. If
they are wicked, they have the honesty at least to profess wickedness.
The mark of the beast is set visibly on their foreheads; and though they
have the boldness to recommend vice, they want the effrontery to make
her pass for virtue. In their grossest immoralities, too, they scarcely
ever seem to be perfectly in earnest; and appear neither to wish nor to
hope to make proselytes. They indulge their own vein of gross riot and
debauchery; but they do not seek to corrupt the principles of their
readers; and are contented to be reprobated as profligate, if they are
admired at the same time for wit and originality.

The immorality of Mr. Moore is infinitely more insidious and malignant.
It seems to be his aim to impose corruption upon his readers, by
concealing it under the mask of refinement; to reconcile them
imperceptibly to the most vile and vulgar sensuality, by blending its
language with that of exalted feeling and tender emotion; and to steal
impurity into their hearts, by gently perverting the most simple and
generous of their affections. In the execution of this unworthy task, he
labours with a perseverance at once ludicrous and detestable. He may be
seen in every page running round the paltry circle of his seductions
with incredible zeal and anxiety, and stimulating his jaded fancy for
new images of impurity, with as much melancholy industry as ever outcast
of the muses hunted for epithets or metre.

It is needless, we hope, to go deep into the inquiry, why certain
compositions have been reprobated as licentious, and their authors
ranked among the worst enemies of morality. The criterion by which their
delinquency may be determined, is fortunately very obvious: no scene can
be tolerated in description, which could not be contemplated in reality,
without a gross violation of propriety: no expression can be pardoned in
poetry to which delicacy could not listen in the prose of real life.

No writer can transgress those limits, and be held guiltless; but there
are degrees of guiltiness, and circumstances of aggravation or apology,
which ought not to be disregarded. A poet of a luxuriant imagination may
give too warm a colouring to the representation of innocent endearments,
or be betrayed into indelicacies in delineating the allurements of some
fair seducer, while it is obviously his general intention to give
attraction to the picture of virtue, and to put the reader on his guard
against the assault of temptation. Mr. Moore has no such apology;--he
takes care to intimate to us, in every page that the raptures which he
celebrates do not spring from the excesses of an innocent love, or the
extravagance of a romantic attachment; but are the unhallowed fruits of
cheap and vulgar prostitution, the inspiration of casual amours, and the
chorus of habitual debauchery. He is at pains to let the world know that
he is still fonder of roving, than of loving; and that all the Caras and
the Fannys, with whom he holds dalliance in these pages, have had each a
long series of preceding lovers, as highly favoured as their present
poetical paramour: that they meet without any purpose of constancy, and
do not think it necessary to grace their connexion with any professions
of esteem or permanent attachment. The greater part of the book is
filled with serious and elaborate description of the ecstasies of such
an intercourse, and with passionate exhortations to snatch the joys,
which are thus abundantly poured forth from "the fertile fount of
sense."

To us, indeed, the perpetual kissing, and twining, and panting of these
amorous persons, is rather ludicrous than seductive; and their eternal
sobbing and whining, raises no emotion in our bosoms, but those of
disgust and contempt. Even to younger men, we believe, the book will not
be very dangerous: nor is it upon their account that we feel the
indignation and alarm which we have already endeavoured to express. The
life and conversation of our sex, we are afraid is seldom so pure as to
leave them much to learn from publications of this description; and they
commonly know enough of the reality, to be aware of the absurd illusions
and exaggerations of such poetical voluptuaries. In them, therefore,
such a composition can work neither corruption nor deception; and it
will, in general, be despised and thrown aside, as a tissue of sickly
and fantastical conceits, equally remote from truth and respectability.
It is upon the other sex, that we conceive its effects may be most
pernicious; and it is chiefly as an insult upon their delicacy, and an
attack upon their purity, that we are disposed to resent its
publication.

The reserve in which women are educated; the natural vivacity of their
imaginations; and the warmth of their sensibility, renders them
peculiarly liable to be captivated by the appearance of violent
emotions, and to be misled by the affectation of tenderness or
generosity. They easily receive any impression that is made under the
apparent sanction of these feelings; and allow themselves to be seduced
into any thing, which they can be persuaded is dictated by disinterested
attachment, and sincere and excessive love. It is easy to perceive how
dangerous it must be for such beings to hang over the pages of a book,
in which supernatural raptures, and transcendent passion, are
counterfeited in every page; in which, images of voluptuousness are
artfully blended with expressions of refined sentiment, and delicate
emotion; and the grossest sensuality is exhibited in conjunction with
the most gentle and generous affections. They who have not learned from
experience, the impossibility of such an union, are apt to be captivated
by its alluring exterior. They are seduced by their own ignorance and
sensibility; and become familiar with the demon, for the sake of the
radiant angel to whom he has been linked by the malignant artifice of
the poet.

We have been induced to enter this strong protest, and to express
ourselves thus warmly against this and the former publications of this
author, both from what we hear of the circulation which they have
already obtained, and from our conviction that they are calculated, if
not strongly denounced to the public, to produce, at this moment,
peculiar and irremediable mischief. The style of composition, as we have
already hinted, is almost new in this country: it is less offensive than
the old fashion of obscenity; and for these reasons, perhaps, is less
likely to excite the suspicion of the moralist, or to become the object
of precaution to those who watch over the morals of the young and
inexperienced. We certainly have known it a permitted study, where
performances, infinitely less pernicious, were rigidly interdicted.

There can be no time in which the purity of the female character can
fail to be of the first importance to every community; but it appears to
us, that it requires at this moment to be more carefully watched over
than at any other; and that the constitution of society has arrived
among us to a sort of crisis, the issue of which may be powerfully
influenced by our present neglect or solicitude. From the increasing
diffusion of opulence, enlightened or polite society is greatly
enlarged, and necessarily becomes more promiscuous and corruptible; and
women are now beginning to receive a more extended education, to venture
more freely and largely into the fields of literature, and to become
more of intellectual and independent creatures, than they have yet been
in these islands. In these circumstances, it seems to be of incalculable
importance, that no attaint should be given to the delicacy and purity
of their expanding minds; that their increasing knowledge should be of
good chiefly, and not of evil; that they should not consider modesty as
one of the prejudices from which they are now to be emancipated; nor
found any part of their new influence upon the licentiousness of which
Mr. Moore invites them to be partakers. The character and the morality
of women exercises already a mighty influence upon the happiness and the
respectability of the nation; and it is destined, we believe, to
exercise a still higher one: But if they should ever cease to be the
pure, the delicate, and timid creatures that they now are--if they
should cease to overawe profligacy, and to win and to shame men into
decency, fidelity, and love of unsullied virtue--it is easy to see that
this influence, which has hitherto been exerted to strengthen and refine
our society, will operate entirely to its corruption and debasement;
that domestic happiness and private honour will be extinguished, and
public spirit and national industry most probably annihilated along with
them.

There is one other consideration which has helped to excite our
apprehension on occasion of this particular performance. Many of the
pieces are dedicated to persons of the first consideration in the
country, both for rank and accomplishments; and the author appears to
consider the greater part of them as his intimate friends, and undoubted
patrons and admirers. Now, this we will confess is to us a very alarming
consideration. By these channels, the book will easily pass into
circulation in those classes of society, which it is of most consequence
to keep free of contamination; and from which its reputation and its
influence will descend with the greatest effect to the great body of the
community. In this reading and opulent country, there are no fashions
which diffuse themselves so fast, as those of literature and immorality:
there is no palpable boundary between the _noblesse_ and the
_bourgeoisie_, as in old France, by which the corruption and
intelligence of the former can be prevented from spreading to the
latter. All the parts of the mass, act and react upon each other with a
powerful and unintermitted agency; and if the head be once infected, the
corruption will spread irresistibly through the whole body. It is doubly
necessary, therefore, to put the law in force against this delinquent,
since he has not only indicated a disposition to do mischief, but seems
unfortunately to have found an opportunity.

ON WORDSWORTH'S "THE
EXCURSION"

[From _The Edinburgh Review_, November, 1814]

_The Excursion, being a portion of the Recluse, a Poem_. By WILLIAM
WORDSWORTH. 4to. pp. 447. London, 1814.

This will never do. It bears no doubt the stamp of the author's heart
and fancy; but unfortunately not half so visibly as that of his peculiar
system. His former poems were intended to recommend that system, and to
bespeak favour for it by their individual merit;--but this, we suspect,
must be recommended by the system--and can only expect to succeed where
it has been previously established. It is longer, weaker, and tamer,
than any of Mr. Wordsworth's other productions; with less boldness of
originality, and less even of that extreme simplicity and lowliness of
tone which wavered so prettily, in the Lyrical Ballads, between
silliness and pathos. We have imitations of Cowper, and even of Milton
here, engrafted on the natural drawl of the Lakers--and all diluted into
harmony by that profuse and irrepressible wordiness which deluges all
the blank verse of this school of poetry, and lubricates and weakens the
whole structure of their style.

Though it fairly fills four hundred and twenty good quarto pages,
without note, vignette, or any sort of extraneous assistance, it is
stated in the title--with something of an imprudent candour--to be but
"a portion" of a larger work; and in the preface, where an attempt is
rather unsuccessfully made to explain the whole design, it is still more
rashly disclosed, that it is but "a part of the second part of a _long_
and laborious work"--which is to consist of three parts.

What Mr. Wordsworth's ideas of length are, we have no means of
accurately judging; but we cannot help suspecting that they are liberal,
to a degree that will alarm the weakness of most modern readers. As far
as we can gather from the preface, the entire poem--or one of them, for
we really are not sure whether there is to be one or two--is of a
biographical nature; and is to contain the history of the author's mind,
and of the origin and progress of his poetical powers, up to the period
when they were sufficiently matured to qualify him for the great work on
which he has been so long employed. Now, the quarto before us contains
an account of one of his youthful rambles in the vales of Cumberland,
and occupies precisely the period of three days; so that, by the use of
a very powerful _calculus_, some estimate may be formed of the probable
extent of the entire biography.

This small specimen, however, and the statements with which it is
prefaced, have been sufficient to set our minds at rest in one
particular. The case of Mr. Wordsworth, we perceive, is now manifestly
hopeless; and we give him up as altogether incurable, and beyond the
power of criticism. We cannot indeed altogether omit taking precautions
now and then against the spreading of the malady;--but for himself,
though we shall watch the progress of his symptoms as a matter of
professional curiosity and instruction, we really think it right not to
harass him any longer with nauseous remedies,--but rather to throw in
cordials and lenitives, and wait in patience for the natural termination
of the disorder. In order to justify this desertion of our patient,
however, it is proper to state why we despair of the success of a more
active practice.

A man who has been for twenty years at work on such matter as is now
before us, and who comes complacently forward with a whole quarto of it
after all the admonitions he has received, cannot reasonably be expected
to "change his hand, or check his pride," upon the suggestion of far
weightier monitors than we can pretend to be. Inveterate habit must now
have given a kind of sanctity to the errors of early taste; and the very
powers of which we lament the perversion, have probably become incapable
of any other application. The very quantity, too, that he has written,
and is at this moment working up for publication upon the old pattern,
makes it almost hopeless to look for any change of it. All this is so
much capital already sunk in the concern; which must be sacrificed if it
be abandoned: and no man likes to give up for lost the time and talent
and labour which he has embodied in any permanent production. We were
not previously aware of these obstacles to Mr. Wordsworth's conversion;
and, considering the peculiarities of his former writings merely as the
result of certain wanton and capricious experiments on public taste and
indulgence, conceived it to be our duty to discourage their repetition
by all the means in our power. We now see clearly, however, how the case
stands;--and, making up our minds, though with the most sincere pain and
reluctance, to consider him as finally lost to the good cause of poetry,
shall endeavour to be thankful for the occasional gleams of tenderness
and beauty which the natural force of his imagination and affections
must still shed over all his productions,--and to which we shall ever
turn with delight, in spite of the affectation and mysticism and
prolixity, with which they are so abundantly contrasted.

Long habits of seclusion, and an excessive ambition of originality, can
alone account for the disproportion which seems to exist between this
author's taste and his genius; or for the devotion with which he has
sacrificed so many precious gifts at the shrine of those paltry idols
which he has set up for himself among his lakes and his mountains.
Solitary musings, amidst such scenes, might no doubt be expected to
nurse up the mind to the majesty of poetical conception,--(though it is
remarkable, that all the greater poets lived or had lived, in the full
current of society):--But the collision of equal minds,--the admonition
of prevailing impressions--seems necessary to reduce its redundancies,
and repress that tendency to extravagance or puerility, into which the
self-indulgence and self-admiration of genius is so apt to be betrayed,
when it is allowed to wanton, without awe or restraint, in the triumph
and delight of its own intoxication. That its flights should be graceful
and glorious in the eyes of men, it seems almost to be necessary that
they should be made in the consciousness that men's eyes are to behold
them,--and that the inward transport and vigour by which they are
inspired, should be tempered by an occasional reference to what will be
thought of them by those-ultimate dispensers of glory. An habitual and
general knowledge of the few settled and permanent maxims, which form
the canon of general taste in all large and polished societies--a
certain tact, which informs us at once that many things, which we still
love and are moved by in secret, must necessarily be despised as
childish, or derided as absurd, in all such societies--though it will
not stand in the place of genius, seems necessary to the success of its
exertions; and though it will never enable any one to produce the higher
beauties of art, can alone secure the talent which does produce them,
from errors that must render it useless. Those who have most of the
talent, however, commonly acquire this knowledge with the greatest
facility;--and if Mr. Wordsworth, instead of confining himself almost
entirely to the society of the dalesmen and cottagers, and little
children, who form the subjects of his book, had condescended to mingle
a little more with the people that were to read and judge of it, we
cannot help thinking, that its texture would have been considerably
improved: At least it appears to us to be absolutely impossible, that
any one who had lived or mixed familiarly with men of literature and
ordinary judgment in poetry (of course we exclude the coadjutors and
disciples of his own school), could ever have fallen into such gross
faults, or so long mistaken them for beauties. His first essays we
looked upon in a good degree as poetical paradoxes,--maintained
experimentally, in order to display talent, and court notoriety;--and so
maintained, with no more serious belief in their truth, than is usually
generated by an ingenious and animated defence of other paradoxes. But
when we find, that he has been for twenty years exclusively employed
upon articles of this very fabric, and that he has still enough of raw
material on hand to keep him so employed for twenty years to come, we
cannot refuse him the justice of believing that he is a sincere convert
to his own system, and must ascribe the peculiarities of his
composition, not to any transient affectation, or accidental caprice of
imagination, but to a settled perversity of taste or understanding,
which has been fostered, if not altogether created, by the circumstances
to which we have already alluded.

The volume before us, if we were to describe it very shortly, we should
characterize as a tissue of moral and devotional ravings, in which
innumerable changes are rung upon a few very simple and familiar ideas:
--but with such an accompaniment of long words, long sentences, and
unwieldy phrases--such a hubbub of strained raptures and fantastical
sublimities, that it is often extremely difficult for the most skilful
and attentive student to obtain a glimpse of the author's meaning--and
altogether impossible for an ordinary reader to conjecture what he is
about. Moral and religious enthusiasm, though undoubtedly poetical
emotions, are at the same time but dangerous inspirers of poetry;
nothing being so apt to run into interminable dulness or mellifluous
extravagance, without giving the unfortunate author the slightest
intimation of his danger. His laudable zeal for the efficacy of his
preachments, he very naturally mistakes for the ardour of poetical
inspiration;--and, while dealing out the high words and glowing phrases
which are so readily supplied by themes of this description, can
scarcely avoid believing that he is eminently original and impressive:--
All sorts of commonplace notions and expressions are sanctified in his
eyes, by the sublime ends for which they are employed; and the mystical
verbiage of the methodist pulpit is repeated, till the speaker
entertains no doubt that he is the elected organ of divine truth and
persuasion. But if such be the common hazards of seeking inspiration
from those potent fountains, it may easily be conceived what chance Mr.
Wordsworth had of escaping their enchantment,--with his natural
propensities to wordiness, and his unlucky habit of debasing pathos with
vulgarity. The fact accordingly is, that in this production he is more
obscure than a Pindaric poet of the seventeenth century; and more
verbose "than even himself of yore"; while the wilfulness with which he
persists in choosing his examples of intellectual dignity and tenderness
exclusively from the lowest ranks of society, will be sufficiently
apparent, from the circumstance of his having thought fit to make his
chief prolocutor in this poetical dialogue, and chief advocate of
Providence and Virtue, _an old Scotch Pedlar_--retired indeed from
business--but still rambling about in his former haunts, and gossiping
among his old customers, without his pack on his shoulders. The other
persons of the drama are, a retired military chaplain, who has grown
half an atheist and half a misanthrope--the wife of an unprosperous
weaver--a servant girl with her infant--a parish pauper, and one or two
other personages of equal rank and dignity.

The character of the work is decidedly didactic; and more than nine-tenths
of it are occupied with a species of dialogue, or rather a series
of long sermons or harangues which pass between the pedlar, the author,
the old chaplain, and a worthy vicar, who entertains the whole party at
dinner on the last day of their excursion. The incidents which occur in
the course of it are as few and trifling as can be imagined;--and those
which the different speakers narrate in the course of their discourses,
are introduced rather to illustrate their arguments or opinions, than
for any interest they are supposed to possess of their own.--The
doctrine which the work is intended to enforce, we are by no means
certain that we have discovered. In so far as we can collect, however,
it seems to be neither more nor less than the old familiar one, that a
firm belief in the providence of a wise and beneficent Being must be our
great stay and support under all afflictions and perplexities upon
earth--and that there are indications of his power and goodness in all
the aspects of the visible universe, whether living or inanimate--every
part of which should therefore be regarded with love and reverence, as
exponents of those great attributes. We can testify, at least, that
these salutary and important truths are inculcated at far greater
length, and with more repetitions, than in any ten volumes of sermons
that we ever perused. It is also maintained, with equal conciseness and
originality, that there is frequently much good sense, as well as much
enjoyment, in the humbler conditions of life; and that, in spite of
great vices and abuses, there is a reasonable allowance both of
happiness and goodness in society at large. If there be any deeper or
more recondite doctrines in Mr. Wordsworth's book, we must confess that
they have escaped us;--and, convinced as we are of the truth and
soundness of those to which we have alluded, we cannot help thinking
that they might have been better enforced with less parade and
prolixity. His effusions on what may be called the physiognomy of
external nature, or its moral and theological expression, are eminently
fantastic, obscure, and affected.--It is quite time, however, that we
should give the reader a more particular account of this singular
performance.

It opens with a picture of the author toiling across a bare common in a
hot summer day, and reaching at last a ruined hut surrounded with tall
trees, where he meets by appointment with a hale old man, with an
iron-pointed staff lying beside him. Then follows a retrospective account
of their first acquaintance--formed, it seems, when the author was at a
village school; and his aged friend occupied "one room,--the fifth part
of a house" in the neighbourhood. After this, we have the history of
this reverend person at no small length. He was born, we are happy to
find, in Scotland--among the hills of Athol; and his mother, after his
father's death, married the parish schoolmaster--so that he was taught
his letters betimes: But then, as it is here set forth with much
solemnity,

From his sixth year, the boy, of whom I speak,
In summer, tended cattle on the hills.

And again, a few pages after, that there may be no risk of mistake as to
a point of such essential importance--

From early childhood, even, as hath been said,
From his _sixth year_, he had been sent abroad,
_In summer_, to tend herds: Such was his task!

In the course of this occupation, it is next recorded, that he acquired
such a taste for rural scenery and open air, that when he was sent to
teach a school in a neighbouring village, he found it "a misery to him,"
and determined to embrace the more romantic occupation of a Pedlar--or,
as Mr. Wordsworth more musically expresses it,

A vagrant merchant bent beneath his load;

--and in the course of his peregrinations had acquired a very large
acquaintance, which, after he had given up dealing, he frequently took a
summer ramble to visit. The author, on coming up to this interesting
personage, finds him sitting with his eyes half shut;--and, not being
quite sure whether he's asleep or awake, stands "some minutes space" in
silence beside him. "At length," says he, with his own delightful
simplicity--

At length I hailed him--_seeing that his hat
Was moist_ with water-drops, as if the brim
Had newly scooped a running stream!--
--"'Tis," said I, "a burning day;
My lips are parched with thirst;--but you, I guess,
Have somewhere found relief."

Upon this, the benevolent old man points him out a well in a corner, to
which the author repairs; and, after minutely describing its situation,
beyond a broken wall, and between two alders that "grew in a cold damp
nook," he thus faithfully chronicles the process of his return--

My thirst I slaked--and from the cheerless spot
Withdrawing, straightway to the shade returned,
Where sate the old man on the cottage bench.

The Pedlar then gives an account of the last inhabitants of the deserted
cottage beside them. These were, a good industrious weaver and his wife
and children. They were very happy for a while; till sickness and want
of work came upon them; and then the father enlisted as a soldier, and
the wife pined in the lonely cottage--growing every year more careless
and desponding, as her anxiety and fears for her absent husband, of whom
no tidings ever reached her, accumulated. Her children died, and left
her cheerless and alone; and at last she died also; and the cottage fell
to decay. We must say, that there is very considerable pathos in the
telling of this simple story; and that they who can get over the
repugnance excited by the triteness of its incidents, and the lowness of
its objects, will not fail to be struck with the author's knowledge of
the human heart, and the power he possesses of stirring up its deepest
and gentlest sympathies. His prolixity, indeed, it is not so easy to get
over. This little story fills about twenty-five quarto pages; and
abounds, of course, with mawkish sentiment, and details of preposterous
minuteness. When the tale is told, the travellers take their staffs, and
end their first day's journey, without further adventure, at a little
inn.

The Second book sets them forward betimes in the morning. They pass by a
Village Wake; and as they approach a more solitary part of the
mountains, the old man tells the author that he is taking him to see an
old friend of his, who had formerly been chaplain to a Highland
regiment--had lost a beloved wife--been roused from his dejection by the
first euthusiasm [Transcriber's note: sic] of the French Revolution--had
emigrated on its miscarriage to America--and returned disgusted to hide
himself in the retreat to which they were now ascending. That retreat is
then most tediously described--a smooth green valley in the heart of the
mountain, without trees, and with only one dwelling. Just as they get
sight of it from the ridge above, they see a funeral train proceeding
from the solitary abode, and hurry on with some apprehension for the
fate of the misanthrope--whom they find, however, in very tolerable
condition at the door, and learn that the funeral was that of an aged
pauper who had been boarded out by the parish in that cheap farm-house,

Book of the day: