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such, that without civil institutions the well-being of the whole may be trusted to the uncontrolled actions of each. It would be idle, however, to discuss the rights of the poor, with reference to a state of society where no poor could exist. But certain it is, that if natural rights, with regard to property, were enforced in our present state of society, we should speedily return with the rights to the state of nature. But, it may be urged, it is not an equal share of property that is claimed as the right of the poor, but a portion adequate to their support. Admit a right to a portion, and who shall assign its limits, either as to the nature of the support, or the number to be supported ? They who would limit either, admit the necessity of modifying the abstract claim, in order to render it compatible with the institutions of society. And yet support implies such a competence as will enable the poor to increase their numbers; and these additional numbers have a like claim to siunilar support, which will give the occasion of similar demands, till the whole property of the country be divided among the claimants. And this is, in fact, the tendency which is now felt in the rapidly increasing operation of the English poor-laws. We shall not enter on the various plans that have been proposed by Mr. Malthus and others, for the abolition or amendment of them; only wishing to clear away what may be considered as obstructions in legislating on this important subject, and to show the principle on which it stands.
In denying the right of the poor to support, Mr. Malthus has not failed to recognize the duty of the rich to assist them, in cases of unmerited or extreme distress. But, at the same time, he presses on the reader's attention, that this duty is not fulfilled by indiscriminate assistance. Those (says he) who are suffering in spite of the best-directed endeavours to avoid it, and from causes which they could not be expected to foresee, are the genuine objects of charity. Such objects ought to be relieved, according to our means, liberally and adequately; even though the worthless are starving. When, indeed, this first claim on our benevolence is satisfied, we may then turn our attention to the idle and improvident. .. 'We are not, however, in any case to lose a present opportunity of doing good, from the mere supposition that we may possibly meet with a worthier object. In all doubtful cases it may safely be laid down as our duty, to follow the natural impulse of our benevolence.'-B. iv. ch. 9. Nor is this contrary to the doctrine, that the poor, who have by improvidence become such, should in general be left to the punishment of Nature, the punishment of want. But Mr. Godwin exclaims, with his usual suavity, “What ignorant babble is this! When this kind benefactor saved this man and his family from perishing with
hunger, hunger, he either did a right or a wrong; he did his duty, or the contrary : for every thing, in our treatment of our fellow-creatures, that is not duty, is of the nature of evil.'—p. 568. It is just this sweeping kind of conclusions, these uncompromising dogmas, and rules without exceptions, which have been the besetting sins of Mr. Godwin's life. Mr. Malthus, in the spirit of temperate philosophy, has observed, that the general principles on these subjects ought not to be pushed too far, though they should always be kept in view; and that many cases may occur, in which the good resulting from the relief of the present distress may more than overbalance the evil to be apprehended from the remote consequence.' -B. iv. c. 11, The exercise of compassionate beneficence is as much a moral duty as the exercise of justice. It is given us, like the prerogative of pardon in the Crown, to modify, in particular cases, the rigour of general law. And as the King is bound by his oath, so is every other mau by his duty, and by the example of bis Maker, to administer justice in mercy. And we do think, that all who advocate the doctrine of Mr. Malthus are particularly called upon to enforce the duties of a discriminating charity; for assuredly the tendency of that doctrine is to diminish our sympathy with the poor as a class ; teaching us to consider them, in general, as improvident intruders, And, in the same proportion, its tendency is to furnish an apology to the selfishness of the wealthy.
These are the points to be guarded in the enunciation of Mr. Malthus's principles. But the important truth of those principles must not be suppressed, because the unfeeling and the vicious may occasionally pervert them to disguise from others, and perhaps from themselves, the selfishness of their hearts. Let such be loudly reminded, that when all claims shall be abolished for indiscriminate charity, and for that systematic supply which, by teaching the poor to reckon upon it, only increases the quantum of improvidence, and the number of the claimants ; still enough will remain of unmerited distress, of failure in the best efforts of virtue, to take away all pretence for indulging in selfish monopoly and hardhearted indifference.
Art. VIII.-Prometheus Unbound, a Lyrical Drama, in Four
Acts; with other Poems, By Percy Bysshe Shelley. 8vo. 182). A ;
tising three different modes of writing : one which any body can read; another which only himself can read; and a third, which neither he nor any body else can read. So Mr. Shelley may plume himself upon writing in three different styles: one which can be generally understood; another which can be understood
only by the author; and a third which is absolutely and intrinsically unintelligible. Whatever his command may be of the first and second of these styles, this volume is a most satisfactory testimonial of his proficiency in the last.
If we might venture to express a general opinion of what far surpasses our comprehension, we should compare the poems contained in this volume to the visions of gay colours mingled with darkness, which often in childhood, when we shut our eyes, seem to revolve at an immense distance around us. In Mr. Shelley's poetry all is brilliance, vacuity, and confusion. We are dazzled by the multitude of words which sound as if they denoted something very grand or splendid: fragments of images pass in crowds before us; but when the procession has gone by, and the tumult of it is over, not a trace of it remains upon the memory. The mind, fatigued and perplexed, is mortified by the consciousness that its labour has not been rewarded by the acquisition of a single distinct conception; the ear, too, is dissatisfied: for the rhythm of the verse is often harsh and unmusical ; and both the ear and the understanding are disgusted by new and uncouth words, and by the awkward, and intricate construction of the sentences.
The predominating characteristic of Mr. Shelley's poetry, however, is its frequent and total want of meaning. Far be it from us to call for strict reasoning, or the precision of logical deductions, in poetry; but we have a right to demand clear, distinct conceptions. The colouring of the pictures may be brighter or more variegated than that of reality; elements may be combined which do not in fact exist in a state of union; but there must be no confusion in the forms presented to us. Upon a question of mere beauty, there may be a difference of taste. That may be deemed energetic or sublime, which is in fact unnatural or bombastic; and yet there may be much difficulty in making the difference sensible to those who do not preserve an habitual and exclusive intimacy with the best models of composition. But the question of meaning, or no meaning, is a matter of fact on which common sense, with common attention, is adequate to decide ; and the decision to which we may come will not be impugned, whatever be the want of taste, or insensibility to poetical excellence, which it may please Mr. Shelley, or any of his coterie, to impute to us. We permit them to assume, that they alone possess all sound taste and all genuine feeling of the beauties of nature and art: still they must grant that it belongs only to the judgment to determine, whether certain passages convey any signification or none; and that, if we are in error ourselves, at least we can mislead nobody else, since the very quotations which we must adduce as examples of nonsense, will, if our charge be not well founded, prove the futility of our accusation at
the very time that it is made. If, however, we should completely establish this charge, we look upon the question of Mr. Shelley's poetical merits as at an end; for he who has the trick of writing very showy verses without ideas, or without coherent ideas, can contribute to the instruction of none, and can please only those who have learned to read without having ever learned to think.
The want of meaning in Mr. Shelley's poetry takes different shapes. Sometimes it is impossible to attach any signification to his words ; sometimes they hover on the verge between meaning and no meaning, so that a meaning may be obscurely conjectured by the reader, though none is expressed by the writer; and sometimes they convey ideas, which, taken separately, are sufficiently clear, but, when connected, are altogether incongruous. We shall begin with a passage which exhibits in some parts the first species of nonsense, and in others the third.
'Lovely apparitions, dim at first,
visit us, the immortal progeny
And arts, tho' unimagined, yet to be.'--p. 105. The verses are very sonorous; and so many fine words are played off upon us, such as, painting, sculpture, poesy, phantoms, radiance, the embrace of beauty, immortal progeny, &c. that a careless reader, influenced by his habit of associating such phrases with lofty or agreeable ideas, may possibly have his fancy tickled into a transient feeling of satisfaction. But let any man try to ascertain what is really said, and he will immediately discover the imposition that has been practised. From beauty, or the embrace of beauty, (we know not which, for ambiguity of phrase is a very frequent companion of nonsense,) certain forms proceed: of these forms there are phantoms; these phantoms are dim; but the mind arises from the embrace of beauty, and casts on them the gathered rays which are reality; they are then baptized by the name of the immortal progeny of the arts, and in that character proceed to visit Prometheus. This galimatias (for it goes far beyond simple nonsense) is rivalled by the following description of soniething that is done by a cloud.
"I am the daughter of earth and water,
And the nursling of the sky;
For after the rain, when with never a stain
The pavilion of heaven is bare,
Build up the blue dome of air.
And out of the caverns of rain,
I arise, and unbuild it again.'-pp. 199, 200. There is a love-sick lady, who dwells under the glaucous caverns of ocean,' and wears the shadow of Prometheus' soul,' without which (she declares) she cannot go to sleep. The rest of her story is utterly incomprehensible; we therefore pass on to the debut of the Spirit of the earth.
• And from the other opening in the wood
Which drowns the sense. We have neither leisure nor room to develope all the absurdities here accumulated, in defiance of common sense, and even of grammar; whirlwind harmony, a solid sphere which is as many thousand spheres, and contains ten thousand orbs or spheres, with intertranspicuous spaces between them, whirling over each other on a thousand sightless (alias invisible) axles; self-destroying swiftness; intelligible words and wild music, kindled by the said sphere, which also grinds a bright brook into an azure mist of elemental