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Famous Reviews by Editor: R. Brimley Johnson

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writing whole pages of vague and bald abstract metaphyric, and then
trying to explain them by concrete concetti; which bear an entirely
accidental and mystical likeness to the notion which they are to
illustrate, then let the metaphysic be as abstract as possible, the
concetti as fanciful and far-fetched as possible. If Marino and Cowley
be greater poets than Ariosto and Milton, let young poets imitate the
former with might and main, and avoid spoiling their style by any
perusal of the too-intelligible common sense of the latter. If Byron's
moral (which used to be thought execrable) be really his great
excellence, his style (which used to be thought almost perfect) unworthy
of this age of progress, then let us have his moral without his style,
his matter without his form; or--that we may be sure of never falling
for a moment into his besetting sin of terseness, grace, and
completeness--without any form at all. If poetry, in order to be worthy
of the nineteenth century, ought to be as unlike as possible to Homer or
Sophocles, Virgil or Horace, Shakespeare or Spenser, Dante or Tasso, let
those too idolised names be rased henceforth from the calendar; let the
_Ars Poetica_, be consigned to flames by Mr. Calcraft, and Bartinus
Scriblerus's _Art of Sinking_ placed forthwith on the list of the
Committee of the Council for Education, that not a working man in
England may be ignorant that, whatsoever superstitions about art may
have haunted the benighted heathens who built the Parthenon, _nous avons
changes tout cela_. In one word, if it be best and most fitting to write
poetry in the style in which almost everyone has been trying to write it
since Pope and plain sense went out, and Shelley and the seventh heaven
came in; let it be so written: and let him who most perfectly so "sets
the age to music," be presented by the assembled guild of critics, not
with the obsolete and too classical laurel, but with an electro-plated
brass medal, bearing the due inscription, _Ars est nescire artem_. And
when, in twelve months' time, he finds himself forgotten, perhaps
descried, for the sake of the next aspirant, let him reconsider himself,
try whether, after all, the common sense of the many will not prove a
juster and a firmer standing-ground than the sentimentality and bad
taste of the few, and read Alexander Pope.

In Pope's writings, whatsoever he may not find, he will find the very
excellences after which our young poets strive in vain, produced by
their seeming opposites, which are now despised and discarded;
naturalness produced by studious art; daring sublimity by strict
self-restraint; depth by clear simplicity; pathos by easy grace; and a
morality infinitely more merciful, as well as more righteous, than the
one now in vogue among poetasters, by honest faith in God....

Yes, Pope knew, as well as Wordsworth and our "Naturalisti," that no
physical fact was so mean or coarse as to be below the dignity of
poetry--when in its right place. He could draw a pathos and sublimity
out of the dirty inn-chamber, such as Wordsworth never elicited from
tubs and daffodils--because he could use them according to the rules of
art, which are the rules of sound reason and of true taste....

The real cause of the modern vagueness is rather to be found in shallow
and unsound culture, and in that inability, or carelessness about seeing
any object clearly, which besets our poets just now; as the cause of
antique clearness lies in the nobler and healthier manhood, in the
severer and more methodic habits of thought, the sounder philosophic and
critical training which enabled Spenser and Milton to draw up a state
paper, or to discourse deep metaphysics, with the same manful possession
of their subject which gives grace and completeness to the _Penseroso_
or the _Epithalmion_. And if our poets have their doubts, they should
remember, that those to whom doubt and enquiry are real and stern, are
not inclined to sing about them till they can sing poems of triumph over
them. There has no temptation taken our modern poets save that which is
common to man--the temptation of wishing to make the laws of the
universe and of art fit them, as they do not feel inclined to make
themselves fit the laws, or care to find them out....

The "poetry of doubt," however pretty, would stand us in little stead if
we were threatened with a second Armada. It will conduce little to the
valour, "virtues," manhood of any Englishman to be informed by any poet,
even in the most melodious verse, illustrated by the most startling and
pan-cosmic metaphors, "See what a highly organised and peculiar
stomach-ache I have had! Does it not prove indisputably that I am not as
other men are?" What gospel there can be in such a message to any honest
man who has either to till the earth, plan a railroad, colonise Australia,
or fight the despots, is hard to discover. Hard indeed to discover how
this most practical, and therefore most epical of ages, is to be "set to
music," when all those who talk about so doing persist obstinately in
poring, with introverted eyes, over the state of their own digestion, or

What man wants, what art wants, perhaps what the maker of the both
wants, is a poet who shall begin by confessing that he is as other men
are, and sing about things which concern all men, in language which all
men can understand. This is the only road to that gift of prophecy which
most young poets are nowadays in such a hurry to arrogate to

There is just now as wide a divorce between poetry and the commonsense
of all time, as there is between poetry and modern knowledge. Our poets
are not merely vague and confused, they are altogether fragmentary--
_disjecta membra poetarum_; they need some uniting idea. And what idea?

Our answer will probably be greeted with a laugh. Nevertheless we answer
simply. What our poets want is faith. There is little or no faith
nowadays. And without faith there can be no real art, for art is the
outward expression of firm, coherent belief....

In the meanwhile, poets write about poets, and poetry, and guiding the
age, and curbing the world, and waking it, and thrilling it, and making
it start, and weep, and tremble, and self-conceit only knows what else;
and yet the age is not guided, or the world curbed, or thrilled, or
waked, or anything else, by them. Why should it be? Curb and thrill the
world? The world is just now a most practical world; and these men are
utterly unpractical. The age is given up to physical science: these men
disregard and outrage it in every page by their false analogies....

Let the poets of the new school consider carefully Wolfe's "Sir John
Moore," Campbell's "Hohenlinden," "Mariners of England," and "Rule
Britannia," Hood's "Song of the Shirt" and "Bridge of Sighs," and then
ask themselves, as men who would be poets, were it not better to have
written any one of these glorious lyrics than all which John Keats has
left behind him; and let them be sure that, howsoever they may answer
the question to themselves, the sound heart of the English people has
already made its choice, and that when that beautiful "Hero and
Leander," in which Hood has outrivalled the conceit-mongers at their own
weapons, by virtue of that very terseness, clearness, and manliness
which they neglect, has been gathered to the limbo of the Crashawes and
Marines, his "Song of the Shirt" and his "Bridge of Sighs," will be
esteemed by great new English nations far beyond the seas, for what they
are--two of the most noble lyric poems ever written by an English pen.
If our poetasters talk with Wordsworth of the dignity and pathos of the
commonest human things, they will find them there in perfection; if they
talk about the cravings of the new time, they will find them there. If
they want the truly sublime and awful, they will find them there also.
But they will find none of their own favourite concetti; hardly even a
metaphor; no taint of this new poetic diction into which we have now
fallen, after all our abuse of the far more manly and sincere "poetic
diction" of the eighteenth century; they will find no loitering by the
way to argue and moralise, and grumble at Providence, and show off the
author's own genius and sensibility; they will find, in short, two real
works of art, earnest, melodious, self-forgetful, knowing clearly what
they want to say, saying it in the shortest, the simplest, the calmest,
the most finished words. Saying it--rather taught to say it. For if that
"divine inspiration of poets," of which the poetasters make such rash
and irreverent boastings, have, indeed, as all ages have held, any
reality corresponding to it, it will rather be bestowed on such works as
these, appeals from an unrighteous man to a righteous God, than on men
whose only claim to celestial help seems to be that mere passionate
sensibility, which our modern Draco once described when speaking of poor
John Keats, as "an infinite hunger after all manner of pleasant things,
crying to the universe, 'oh, that thou wert one great lump of sugar,
that I might suck thee!'"



[From _Fraser's Magazine_, January, 1838]

If[1] against the inroads of the evangelical party the orthodox church
has need of a defender, it hardly would wish, we should think, to be
assisted _tali auxilio_. Mrs. Trollope has not exactly the genius which
is best calculated to support the Church of England, or to argue upon so
grave a subject as that on which she has thought proper to write.

[1] _The Vicar of Wrexhill_. By Mrs. Trollope. London, 1837.

With a keen eye, a very sharp tongue, a firm belief, doubtless, in the
high church doctrines, and a decent reputation from the authorship of
half-a-dozen novels, or other light works, Mrs. Trollope determined on
no less an undertaking than to be the champion of oppressed Orthodoxy.
These are feeble arms for one who would engage in such a contest, but
our fair Mrs. Trollope trusted entirely in her own skill, and the weapon
with which she proposed to combat a strong party is no more nor less
than this novel of _The Vicar of Wrexhill_. It is a great pity that the
heroine ever set forth on such a foolish errand; she has only harmed
herself and her cause (as a bad advocate always will), and had much
better have remained home, pudding-making or stocking-mending, than have
meddled with matters which she understands so ill.

In the first place (we speak it with due respect for the sex), she is
guilty of a fault which is somewhat too common among them; and having
very little, except prejudice, on which to found an opinion, she makes
up for want of argument by a wonderful fluency of abuse. A woman's
religion is chiefly that of the heart, and not of the head. She goes
through, for the most part, no tedious process of reasoning, no dreadful
stages of doubt, no changes of faith: she loves God as she loves her
husband--by a kind of instinctive devotion. Faith is a passion with her,
not a calculation; so that, in the faculty of believing, though they far
exceed the other sex, in the power of convincing they fall far short of

Oh! we repeat once more, that ladies would make puddings and mend
stockings! that they would not meddle with religion (what is styled
religion, we mean), except to pray to God, to live quietly among their
families, and move lovingly among their neighbours! Mrs. Trollope, for
instance, who sees so keenly the follies of the other party--how much
vanity there is in Bible Meetings--how much sin even at Missionary
Societies--how much cant and hypocrisy there is among those who
desecrate the awful name of God, by mixing it with their mean interests
and petty projects--Mrs. Trollope cannot see that there is any hypocrisy
or bigotry on her part. She, who designates the rival party as false,
and wicked, and vain--tracing all their actions to the basest motives,
declaring their worship of God to be only one general hypocrisy, their
conduct at home one fearful scene of crime, is blind to the faults on
her own side. Always bitter against the Pharisees, she does as the
Pharisees do. It is vanity, very likely, which leads these people to use
God's name so often, and to devote all to perdition who do not coincide
in their peculiar notions. Is Mrs. Trollope less vain than they when she
declares, and merely _declares_, her own to be the real creed, and
stigmatises its rival so fiercely? Is Mrs. Trollope serving God, in
making abusive licencious pictures of those who serve Him in a different
way? Once, as Mrs. Trollope has read--it was a long time ago!--there was
a woman taken in sin; the people brought her before a great Teacher of
Truth, who lived in those days. Shall we not kill her? said they; the
laws command that all adulteresses be killed. We can fancy a Mrs.
Trollope in the crowd, shouting, "oh, the wretch! oh, the abominable
harlot! kill her, by all means--stoning is really too good for her!" But
what did the Divine Teacher say? He was quite as anxious to prevent the
crime as any Mrs. Trollope of them all; but he did not even make an
allusion to it--he did not describe the manner in which the poor
creature was caught--He made no speech to detail the indecencies which
she committed, or to raise the fury of the mob against her--He said "let
the man who is without sin himself throw the first stone!" Whereupon the
Pharisees and Mrs. Trollope slunk away, for they knew they were no
better than she. There was as great a sin in His eyes as that of the
poor erring woman--it was the sin of pride.

Mrs. Trollope may make a licentious book, of which the heroes and
heroines are all of the evangelical party; and it may be true, that
there are scoundrels belonging to that party as to every other; but her
shameful error has been in fixing upon the evangelical _class_ as an
object of satire, making them necessarily licentious and hypocritical,
and charging everyone of them with the vices which belong to only a very
few of all sects....

There are some books, we are told, in the libraries of Roman Catholic
theologians, which, though written for the most devout purposes, are so
ingeniously obscene as to render them quite dangerous for common eyes.
The groom, in the old story, had never learned the art of greasing
horses' teeth, to prevent their eating oats, until the confessor, in
interrogating him as to his sins, asked him the question. The next time
the groom came to confess, he _had_ greased the horses' teeth. It was
the holy father who taught him, by the very fact of warning him against
it. By which we mean, that there are some scenes of which it is better
not to speak at all.

Our fair moralist, however, has no such squeamishness. She will show up
these odious evangelicals; she will expose them and chastise them,
wherever they be. So have we seen, in that beautiful market in Thames
Street, whither the mariners of England bring the glittering produce of
their nets--so have we seen, we say, in Billingsgate, a nymph attacking
another of her sisterhood. How keenly she detects and proclaims the
number and enormity of her rival's faults! How eloquently she enlarges
upon the gin she has drunk, the children she has confided to the parish,
the watchmen whose noses she has broken, and the bridewells which she
has visited in succession! No one can but admire the lady's eloquence
and talent in conducting the case for the prosecution; no one will,
perhaps, doubt the guilt of the hapless object on whom her wrath is
vented. But, with all her rage for morality, had not that fair accused
have better left the matter alone? That torrent of slang and oath, O
nymph! falls ill from thy lips, which should never open but for a soft
word or a smile; that accurate description of vice, sweet orator [-tress
or-trix]! only shows that thou thyself art but too well acquainted with
scenes which thy pure eyes should never have beheld. And when we come to
the matter in dispute--a simple question of mackerel--O, Mrs. Trollope!
Why, why should you abuse other people's fish, and not content yourself
with selling your _own_....

There can be little doubt as to the cleverness of this novel, but,
coming from a women's pen, it is most odiously and disgustingly
indecent. As a party attack, it is an entire failure; and as a
representation of a very large portion of English Christians, a shameful
and wicked slander.


To talk of _Ernest Maltravers_ now, is to rake up a dead man's ashes.
The poor creature came into the world almost still-born, and, though he
has hardly been before the public for a month, is forgotten as much as
_Rienzi_ or the _Disowned_. What a pity that Mr. Bulwer will not learn
wisdom with age, and confine his attention to subjects at once more
grateful to the public and more suitable to his own powers! He excels in
the _genre_ of Paul de Kock, and is always striving after the style of
Plato; he has a keen perception of the ridiculous and, like Liston or
Cruikshank, and other comic artists, persists that his real vein is the
sublime. What a number of sparkling magazine-papers, what an outpouring
of fun and satire, might we have had from Neddy Bulwer, had he not
thought fit to turn moralist, metaphysician, politician, poet, and be
Edward Lytton, Heaven--knows--what Bulwer, Esquire and M.P., a dandy, a
philosopher, a spouter at Radical meetings. We speak feelingly, for we
knew the youth at Trinity Hall, and have a tenderness even for his
tomfooleries. He has thrown away the better part of himself--his great
inclination for the LOW, namely; if he would but leave off scents for
his handkerchief, and oil for his hair; if he would but confine himself
to three clean shirts a week, a couple of coats in a year, a beefsteak
and onions for dinner, his beaker a pewter-pot, his carpet a sanded
floor, how much might be made of him even yet! An occasional pot of
porter too much--a black eye, in a tap-room fight with a carman--a night
in the watch-house--or a surfeit produced by Welsh-rabbit and gin and
beer, might, perhaps, redden his fair face and swell his slim waist; but
the _mental_ improvement which he would acquire under such treatment--
the intellectual pluck and vigour which he would attain by the stout
diet--the manly sports and conversation in which he would join at the
Coal-Hole, or the Widow's, are far better for him than the feeble
fribble of the Reform Club (not inaptly called "The Hole in the Wall");
the windy French dinners, which, as we take it, are his usual fare; and,
above all, the unwholesome Radical garbage which form the political food
of himself and his clique in the House of Commons.

For here is the evil of his present artificial courses--the humbug
required to keep up his position as dandy, politician, and philosopher
(in neither of which latter characters the man is in earnest), must get
into _his heart_ at last; and then his trade is ruined. A little more
politics and Plato, and the natural disappears altogether from Mr.
Bulwer's writings: the individual man becomes as undistinguishable
amidst the farrago of philosophy in which he has chosen to envelope
himself, as a cutlet in the sauces of a French cook. The idiosyncracy of
the mutton perishes under the effects of the adjuncts: even so the
moralising, which may be compared to the mushrooms, of Mr. Bulwer's
style; the poetising, which may be likened unto the flatulent turnips
and carrots; and the politics, which are as the gravy, reeking of filthy
garlic, greasy with rancid oil;--even so, we say, pursuing this savoury
simile to its fullest extent, the natural qualities of young Pelham--the
wholesome and juicy _mutton of the mind_, is shrunk and stewed away.

Or, to continue in this charming vein of parable, the author of _Pelham_
may be likened to Beau Tibbs. Tibbs, as we all remember, would pass for
a pink of fashion, and had a wife whom he presented to the world as a
paragon of virtue and _ton_, and who was but the cast-off mistress of a
lord. Mr. Bulwer's philosophy is his Mrs. Tibbs; he thrusts her forward
into the company of her betters, as if her rank and reputation never
admitted of a question. To all his literary undertakings this goddess of
his accompanies him; what a cracked, battered truly she is! with a
person and morals that would suit Vinegar yard, and a chastity that
would be hooted in Drury Lane.

The morality which Mr. Bulwer has acquired in his researches, political
and metaphysical, is of the most extraordinary nature. For one who is
always preaching of Truth of Beauty, the dulness of his moral sense is
perfectly ludicrous. He cannot see that the hero into whose mouth he
places his favourite metaphysical gabble--his dissertations about the
stars, the passions, the Greek plays, and what not--his eternal whine
about what he calls the good and the beautiful--is a fellow as mean and
paltry as can be well imagined; a man of rant, and not of action;
foolishly infirm of purpose, and strong only in desire; whose beautiful
is a tawdry strumpet, and whose good would be crime in the eyes of an
honest man. So much for the portrait of Ernest Maltravers: as for the
artist, we cannot conceive a man to have failed more completely. He
wishes to paint an amiable man, and he succeeds in drawing a scoundrel:
he says he will give us the likeness of a genius, and it is only the
picture of a _humbug_.

Ernest Maltravers is an eccentric and enthusiastic young man, to whom we
are introduced upon his return from a German university. Fond of wild
adventure and solitary rambles, we find him upon a heath, wandering
alone, tired, and benighted. The two first chapters of the book are in
Mr. Bulwer's very best manner; the description of the lone hut to which
the lad comes--the ruffian who inhabits it--the designs which he has
upon the life of his new guest, and the manner in which his daughter
defeats them, are told with admirable liveliness and effect. The young
man escapes, and with him the girl who had prevented his murder. Both
are young, interesting, and tender hearted; she loves but him, and would
die of starvation without him. Ernest Maltravers cannot resist the claim
of so unprotected a creature; he hires a cottage for her, and a
writing-master. He is a young man of genius, and generous dispositions; he
is a Christian, and instructs the ignorant Alice in the awful truth of his
religion; moreover he is deep in poetry, philosophy, and the German
metaphysics. How should such a Christian instruct an innocent and
beautiful child, his pupil? What should such a philosopher do? Why
seduce her, to be sure! After a deal of namby-pamby Platonism, the girl,
as Mr. Bulwer says, "goes to the deuce." The expression is as charming
as the morality, and appears amidst a quantity of the very finest
writing about the good and the beautiful, youth, love, passion, nature
and so forth. It is curious how rapidly one turns from good to bad in
this book. How clever the descriptions are! how neatly some of the minor
events and personalities are hit off! and yet, how astonishingly vile
and contemptible the chief part of it is!--that part, we mean, which
contains the adventures of the hero, and, of course, the choice
reflections of the author.

The declamations about virtue are endless, as soon as Maltravers appears
upon the scene; and yet we find him committing the agreeable little
_faux pas_ of which we have just spoken. In one place, we have him
making violent love to another man's wife; in another place, raging for
blood like a tiger and swearing for revenge....

It is curious and painful to read Mr. Bulwer's [philosophy], and to mark
the easy vanity with which virtue is assumed here, self-knowledge
arrogated, and a number of windy sentences, which really possess no
meaning, are gravely delivered with all the emphasis of truth and the
air of profound conviction.

"I have learned," cries our precious philosopher, "to lean on my own
soul, and not look eleswhere [Transcriber's note: sic] for the reeds
that a wind can break!" And what has he learned by leaning on his own
soul? Is it to be happier than others? or to be better? Not he!--he is
as wretched and wicked a dog as any unhung. He "leans on his own soul,"
and makes love to the Countess and seduces Alice Darvell. A ploughboy is
a better philosopher and moralist than this mouthing Maltravers, with
his boasted love of mankind (which reduces itself to a very coarse love
of _woman_kind), and his scorn of "the false gods and miserable creeds"
of the world, and his soul "lifting its crest to heaven!" A Catholic
whipping himself before a stone-image, a Brahmin dangling on a hook, or
standing on one leg for a year, has a higher notion of God than this
ranting fool, who is always prating about his own perfections and his
divine nature; the one is humble, at least, though blind; the other is
proud of his very imperfections and glories in his folly. What does this
creature know of virtue, who finds it _by leaning on his own soul_,
forsooth? What does he know of God, who, in looking for him, can see but
himself, steeped in sin, bloated and swollen with monstrous pride, and
strutting before the world and the creator as a maker of systems, a
layer down of morals, and a preacher of beauty and truth?...

[Some of the] characters are excellently drawn; how much better than
"_their lips spake of sentiment, and their eyes applied it_!" How soon
these philosophers begin ogling! how charmingly their unceasing gabble
about beauty and virtue is exemplified in their actions! Mr. Bulwer's
philosophy is like a French palace--it is tawdry, shady, splendid; but,
_gare aux nez sensibles_! one is always reminded of the sewer. "Their
lips spoke sentiment, and their eyes applied it." O you naughty, naughty
Mr. Bulwer!


The dedicatory inscription in the volume of _The Monthly Repository_, in
which the following review appears, will indicate--in a few words--the
motives inspiring the editor, W. J. Fox, in his journalistic career:--
"To the Working People of Great Britain and Ireland; who, whether they
produce the means of physical support and enjoyment, or aid the progress
of moral, political, and social reform and improvement, are
fellow-labourers for the well-being of the entire community."

* * * * *

_Pauline_ was published, when Browning was 21, at his aunt's expense. It
secured only _one_ favourable notice, here printed; while the author and
his sister deliberately destroyed the unsold copies.


[From _The Monthly Repository_, 1833]

_Pauline; A Fragment of a Confession_. London, Saunders & Otley. 1833

The most deeply interesting adventures, the wildest vicissitudes, the
most daring explorations, the mightiest magic, the fiercest conflicts,
the brightest triumphs, and the most affecting catastrophes, are those
of the spiritual world....

The knowledge of mind is the first of sciences; the records of its
formation and workings are the most important of histories; and it is
eminently a subject for poetical exhibition. The annals of a poet's mind
are poetry. Nor has there ever been a genuine bard, who was not himself
more poetical than any of his productions. They are emanations of his
essence. He himself is, or has been, all that he truly and touchingly,
_i.e._, poetically, describes. Wordsworth, indeed, never carried a
pedlar's pack, nor did Byron ever command a pirate ship, or Coleridge
shoot an albatross; but there were times and moods in which their
thoughts intently realised, and identified themselves with the
reflective wanderer, the impetuous Corsair, and the ancient mariner.
They felt _their_ feelings, thought _their_ thoughts, burned with
_their_ passions, dreamed _their_ dreams, and lived their lives, or died
their deaths. In relation to his creations, the poet is the omnific
spirit in whom they have their being. All their vitality must exist in
his life. He only, in them, displays to us fragments of himself. The
poem, in which a great poet should reveal the whole of himself to
mankind would be a study, a delight, and a power, for which there is yet
no parallel; and around which the noblest creations of the noblest
writers would range themselves as subsidiary luminaries.

These thoughts have been suggested by the work before us, which, though
evidently a hasty and imperfect sketch, has truth and life in it, which
gave us the thrill, and laid hold of us with the power, the sensation of
which has never yet failed us as a test of genius. Whoever the anonymous
author may be, he is a poet. A pretender to science cannot always be
safely judged of by a brief publication, for the knowledge of some facts
does not imply the knowledge of other facts; but the claimant of poetic
honours may generally be appreciated by a few pages, often by a few
lines, for if they be poetry, he is a poet. We cannot judge of the house
by the brick, but we can judge of the statue of Hercules by its foot. We
felt certain of Tennyson, before we saw the book, by a few verses which
had straggled into a newspaper; we are not less certain of the author of

Pauline is the recipient of the confessions: the hero is as anonymous as
the author, and this is no matter, for _poet_ is the title both of the
one and the other. The confessions have nothing in them which needs
names: the external world is only reflected in them in its faintest
shades; its influences are only described after they have penetrated
into the intellect. We have never read anything more purely
confessional. The whole composition is of the spirit, spiritual. The
scenery is in the chambers of thought: the agencies are powers and
passions; the events are transitions from one state of spiritual
existence to another. And yet the composition is not dreamy; there is on
it a deep stamp of reality. Still less is it characterised by coldness.
It has visions that we love to look upon, and tones that touch the
inmost heart till it responds.

The poet's confessions are introduced with an analysis of his spiritual
constitution, in which he is described as having an intense
consciousness of individuality, combined with a sense of power, a
self-supremacy, and a "principle of restlessness which would be all, have,
see, know, taste, feel all"; of this essential self, imagination is
described as the characteristic quality; an imagination, steady and
unfailing in its power. A "yearning after God," or supreme and universal
good, unconsciously cherished through the earlier stages of the history,
keeps this mind from utterly dissipating itself; and, which seems to us
the only point in which the coherence fails, there is added an unaptness
for love, a mere perception of the beautiful, the perception being felt
more precious than its object....

And now when he has run the whole toilsome yet giddy round and arrived
at the goal, there arises, even though that goal be religion, or because
it is religion, a yearning after human sympathies and affections, which
would not have assorted with any state or moment of the previous
experience; he could not have loved before; at one time it would have
been only a fancy, a cold, and yet perhaps extravagant imagining; at
another, a low and selfish passion. Some souls are purified _by_ love,
others are purified _for_ love. Othello needed not Desdemona to listen
to his tale of disastrous chances; they were only external perils, rapid
by elevated station; but the mind that has gone through more than his
vicissitudes, been in deeper dangers, and deadlier struggles, even when
it rests at last in a far higher repose and dignity, yearns for some one
who will "seriously incline" to listen to the "strange eventful
history," one who will sympathise and soothe, who will receive the
confession, and give the absolution of heaven its best earthly
ratification, that of a pure and loving heart. The poem is addressed to
Pauline; with her it begins, and ends; and her presence is felt
throughout, as that of a second conscience, wounded by evil, but never
stern, and incorporate in a form of beauty, which blends and softens the
strong contrasts of different portions of the poem, so that all might be
murmured by the breath of affection.

The author cannot expect such a poem as this to be popular, to make a
"hit," to produce a "sensation." The public are but slow in recognising
the claims of Tennyson whom in some respects he resembles; and the
common eye scarcely yet discerns among the laurel-crowned, the form of
Shelley, who seems (how justly, we stop not now to discuss), to have
been the god of his early idolatory. Whatever inspiration may have been
upon him from that deity, the mysticism of the original oracles has been
happily avoided. And whatever resemblance he may bear to Tennyson (a
fellow worshipper probably at the same shrine) he owes nothing of the
perhaps inferior melody of his verse to an employment of archaisms which
it is difficult to defend from the charge of affectation. But he has not
given himself the chance for popularity which Tennyson did, and which it
is evident that he easily might have done. His poem stands alone, with
none of those light but taking accompaniments, songs that sing
themselves, sketches that everybody knows, light little lyrics, floating
about like humming birds, around the trunk and foliage of the poem
itself; and which would attract so many eyes, and delight so many ears,
that will be slow to perceive the higher beauty of that composition, and
to whom a sycamore is no sycamore, unless it be "musical with bees."



De Quincey has been said to have "taken his place in our literature as
the author of about 150 magazine articles," and, though chiefly
remembered by his _Confessions of an Opium Eater_ and by his wonderful
experiments in "impassioned prose," there can be no question that his
critical work occupied much of his attention, and was nearly always
original. In many respects his point of view was perverse, and towards
his contemporaries occasionally spiteful; while his tendency to dwell
upon disputed points was apt to obscure the general impression.

* * * * *

It is interesting to compare his unmeasured condemnation of Pope with
Kingsley's eulogy: since both were, more or less, directly inspired by
the contrast of eighteenth century correctness to the poetical gospel of
the Lake Poets. From the two articles we can obtain a fair and emphatic
statement of "both sides of the case."


[From _Tait's Edinburgh Magazine_, May, 1851]

Whom shall we pronounce a fit writer to be laid before an auditory of
working-men, as a model of what is just in composition--fit either for
conciliating their regard to literature at first or afterwards for
sustaining it? The qualifications for such a writer are apparently these
two; first, that he should deal chiefly with the elder and elementary
affections of man, and under those relations which concern man's
grandest capacities; secondly, that he should treat his subject with
solemnity, and not with sneer--with earnestness, as one under a
prophet's burden of impassioned truth, and not with the levity of a girl
hunting a chance-started caprice. I admire Pope in the very highest
degree; but I admire him as a pyrotechnic artist for producing brilliant
and evanescent effects out of elements that have hardly a moment's life
within them. There is a flash and a startling explosion, then there is a
dazzling coruscation, all purple and gold; the eye aches under the
suddenness of a display that, springing like a burning arrow out of
darkness, rushes back into the darkness with arrowy speed, and in a
moment is all over. Like festal shows, or the hurrying music of such

It _was_, and it is not.

Untruly, therefore, was it ever fancied of Pope, that he
belonged by his classification to the family of the Drydens. Dryden had
within him a principle of continuity which was not satisfied without
lingering upon his own thoughts, brooding over them, and oftentimes
pursuing them through their unlinkings with the _sequaciousness_ (pardon
a Coleridgian word) that belongs to some process of creative nature,
such as the unfolding of a flower. But Pope was all jets and tongues of
flame; all showers of scintillation and sparkle. Dryden followed,
genially, an impulse of his healthy nature. Pope obeyed, spasmodically,
an overmastering febrile paroxysm. Even in these constitutional
differences between the two are written and are legible the
corresponding necessities of "utter falsehood in Pope, and of loyalty to
truth in Dryden." Strange it is to recall this one striking fact, that
if once in his life Dryden might reasonably have been suspected of
falsehood, it was in the capital matter of religion. He _ratted_ from
his Protestant faith; and according to the literal origin of that figure
he _ratted_; for he abjured it as rats abjure a ship in which their
instinct of divination has deciphered a destiny of ruin, and at the very
moment when Popery wore the promise of a triumph that might, at any
rate, have lasted his time. Dryden was a papist by apostacy; and
perhaps, not to speak uncharitably, upon some bias from self-interest.
Pope, on the other hand, was a Papist by birth, and by a tie of honour;
and he resisted all temptations to desert his afflicted faith, which
temptations lay in bribes of great magnitude prospectively, and in
persecutions for the present that were painfully humiliating. How base a
time-server does Dryden appear on the one side! on the other, how much
of a martyr should we be disposed to pronounce Pope! And yet, for all
that, such is the overruling force of a nature originally sincere, the
apostate Dryden wore upon his brow the grace of sincerity, whilst the
pseudo-martyr Pope, in the midst of actual fidelity to his church, was
at his heart a traitor--in the very oath of his allegiance to his
spiritual mistress had a lie upon his lips, scoffed at her while
kneeling in homage to her pretensions, and secretly forswore her
doctrines while suffering insults in her service.

The differences as to truth and falsehood lay exactly where by all the
external symptoms they ought _not_ to have lain. But the reason for this
anomaly was that to Dryden sincerity had been a perpetual necessity of
his intellectual nature, whilst Pope, distracted by his own activities
of mind, living in an irreligious generation, and beset by infidel
friends, had early lost his anchorage of traditional belief; and yet,
upon honourable scruple of fidelity to the suffering Church of his
fathers, he sought often to dissemble the fact of his own scepticism,
which often he thirsted ostentatiously to parade. Through a motive of
truthfulness he became false. And in this particular instance he would,
at any rate, have become false, whatever had been the native
constitution of his mind. It was a mere impossibility to reconcile any
real allegiance to his church with his known irreverence to religion.
But upon far more subjects than this Pope was habitually false to the
quality of his thoughts, always insincere, never by any accident in
earnest, and consequently many times caught in ruinous self-contradiction.
Is that the sort of writer to furnish an advantageous study for the
precious leisure, precious as rubies, of the toil-worn artisan.

The root and pledge of this falseness in Pope lay in a disease of his
mind, which he (like the Roman poet Horace) mistook for a feature of
praeter-natural strength; and this disease was the incapacity of
self-determination towards any paramount or abiding _principles_. Horace,
in a well-known passage, had congratulated himself upon this disease as
upon a trophy of philosophical emancipation:

Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri,
Quo me cunque rapit tempestas, deferor hospes:

which words Pope translates, and applies to himself in his
English adaptation of this epistle--

But ask not to what doctors I apply--
Sworn to no master, of no sect am I.
As drives the storm, at any door I knock;
And house with Montaigne now, and now with Locke.

That is, neither one poet nor the other having, as regarded philosophy,
any internal principle of gravitation or determining impulse to draw him
in one direction rather than another, was left to the random control of
momentary taste, accident, or caprice; and this indetermination of pure,
unballasted levity both Pope and Horace mistook for a special privilege
of philosophic strength. Others, it seems, were chained and coerced by
certain fixed aspects of truth, and their efforts were over-ruled
accordingly in one uniform line of direction. But _they_, the two
brilliant poets, fluttered on butterfly wings to the right and the left,
obeying no guidance but that of some instant and fugitive sensibility to
some momentary phasis of beauty. In this dream of drunken eclecticism,
and in the original possibility of such an eclecticism, lay the ground
of that enormous falsehood which Pope practised from youth to age. An
eclectic philosopher already, in the very title which he assumes,
proclaims his self-complacency in the large liberty of error purchased
by the renunciation of all controlling principles. Having served the
towing-line which connected him with any external force of guiding and
compulsory truth, he is free to go astray in any one of ten thousand
false radiations from the true centre of rest. By his own choice he is
wandering in a forest all but pathless,

--ubi passim
Pallantes error recto de tramite pellit;

and a forest not of sixty days' journey, like that old Hercynian
forest of Caesar's time, but a forest which sixty generations
have not availed to traverse or familiarise in any one direction....

_Here_ would be the most advantageous and _remunerative_ station to take
for one who should undertake a formal exposure of Pope's
hollow-heartedness; that is, it would most commensurately reward the pains
and difficulties of such an investigation. But it would be too long a task
for this situation, and it would be too polemic. It would move through a
jungle of controversies.... Instead of this I prefer, as more amusing,
as less elaborate, and as briefer, to expose a few of Pope's _personal_
falsehoods, and falsehoods as to the notorieties of _fact_. Truth
speculative often-times, drives its roots into depth, so dark that the
falsifications to which it is liable, though detected, cannot always be
exposed to the light of day--the result is known, but not therefore
seen. Truth personal, on the other hand, may easily be made to confront
its falsifier, not with reputation only, but with the visible _shame_ of
refutation. Such shame would settle upon _every_ page of Pope's satires
and moral epistles, oftentimes upon every couplet, if any censor, armed
with an adequate knowledge of the facts, were to prosecute the inquest.
And the general impression from such an inquest would be, that Pope
never delineated a character, nor uttered a sentiment, nor breathed an
aspiration, which he would not willingly have recast, have retracted,
have abjured or trampled underfoot with the curses assigned to heresy,
if by such an act he could have added a hue of brilliancy to his
colouring or a new depth to his shadows. There is nothing he would not
have sacrificed, not the most solemn of his opinions, nor the most
pathetic memorial from his personal experience, in return for a
sufficient consideration, which consideration meant always with _him_
poetic effect. It is not, as too commonly is believed, that he was
reckless of other people's feelings; so far from _that_, he had a morbid
_facility_ in his kindness; and in cases where he had no reason to
suspect any lurking hostility, he showed even a paralytic benignity.
But, simply and constitutionally, he was incapable of a sincere thought
or a sincere emotion. Nothing that ever he uttered, were it even a
prayer to God, but he had a fancy for reading it backwards. And he was
evermore false, not as loving or preferring falsehood, but as one who
could not in his heart perceive much real difference between what people
affected to call falsehood, and what they affected to call truth.


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