« AnteriorContinuar »
brandt we should read Rubens. See then what a store of knowledge these passages force upon the reader !
Delphine's answer,' we are told, contained that mixture of frivolity, wordliness, &c. &c. which formed her character.'--p. 149.
' It is impossible that you can longer deceive yourself. You never deceived me. You love this man. For it happens that we never dream of commencing friends, till we have actually taken our degrees as lovers in the last stage. Then your tirade against that poor girl and her religion. Can any power on earth persuade me, that you would sit down to study divinity, for the sake of abusing a set of people, whom you would care no more about than the Camisards of France; only that you choose to be in love with a boy whom one of these pretty puritans has captivated?
* Fear not, my charming Zaira ! there will always be enough to love the world, if all the begging Bonzes of the East were united with all the mendicant orders of Europe, and they again backed by the ghosts of the RUMP-parliament, raised from the dead for the purpose. Do you remember your admirable Shakspeare? “ Thinkest thou, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? Yea, by Saint Anne, and ginger shall be hot in the mouth too!”
* And now, my dear Zaira, that I have removed your apprehensions about the world being turned upside down by these moral Archimedes's, have the goodness to remove mine (if you can) about yourself. All my levity forsakes me when I think of your situation. Waken, waken, my charming Zaira, from your dream! it is but a dream; or sleep on and perish, as the botanists did in their tour of exploration on the coasts of New Holland.
The cant of university-commencements—the Camisards of France -the begging bonzes—the Rump Parliament-Shakspeare, Archimedes, and Sir Joseph Banks !-A young lady may well exclaim, · If Delphine be frivolous, what must I be, who, except Shakspeare and that parliament with the queer name, have never heard of any of these affairs?' Emulation will be thus generated; information will follow, and boarding-school girls will be as profound as the reverend author of Bertram.
This correspondence concludes with a pleasant ridicule of the inconsistency into which novelists are often betrayed by labouring after consistency. This same learned lady, because she is a French woman, and of course frivolous, must write thus of the capture of Paris.
"“ Mon dieu!—The allies are absolutely within a few leagues of Paris. What horrors surround us! I know not how mon joli chat will escape. They say those Cossacks eat cats! Horrible, I will rather perish first.
• " Ah, my beautiful Zaira, the artillery of the allies is sending its thunders from the heights of Montmartre. What an event! How astonishing! What a disgrace to the history of civilised nations !
Paris, Paris, the métropolis of the world, invested by hostile forces ! Paris, that like Sparta, never saw the smoke of an enemy's camp! After this, the sacking of Rome by pagan Goths, or by catholic imperialists in the time of Clement, may be read with very little emotion. Ab, my God! what will become of my cat if the Cossacks eat him?'-vol.ii. p. 161 -163.
Sparta, Rome, Brennus, Pope Clement, and my cat!
We have examples in abundance of all kinds of absurdity in Greek, Latin, Italian, and above all in English, with which the author endeavours to amuse us, but we have not room to spare for any more extracts. Parodies, as we once before said, should be short-Mr. Mathurin's, though admirably sustained, is too long, and we may venture to say also that the mask is never sufficiently removed—we know that the reverend author means to be merry at the expense of novel writers and port-folio pedants, but we regret to say that we have heard that some persons, mistaking his book for a serious production, have censured it as degrading, by its folly, its ignorant pedantry, its constant fustian, and its occasional blasphemy, the character of a clerical author ; while others, equally well disposed, but more simple, have looked upon it not only as serious but as meritorious, and have praised it as having all ihe qualities of an excellent novel. Though both these opinions are alike unfounded, we would advise the writer to take warning from them. We are satisfied that he would repel either imputation with equal indignation, but he ought not to expose bimself to such misapprehension; and we are glad to see that instead of the perplexing riddle of a mock romance, he has been employing bimself, to the same mural end, on a volume of Sermons' which we have seen advertised, and which we have no doubt will be as excellent in their way as · Bertram' or · Women,' and at least by their name and character be sacred from any of the misconstructions put on the volumes we have just endeavoured to vindicate.
Art. III. Samor, Lord of the Bright City. An Heroic Poem.
By the Rev. H. H. Milman, M.Ă. 8vo. pp. 374. London.
1818. THERE is scarcely any department of literature, indeed we
might say of any art or science, in which certain characteristic changes may not be remarked in almost every age, either as to the manner or the degree in which it is pursued. These changes it is always interesting to notice, either for the causes from which they flow, or the consequences to which they give birth. If we mistake not, a revolution of this nature has been observable of late years in the criticism of this country, especially in that department of it which professes to regulate poetical taste, and assign the rewards
of poetical merit; and we shall, perhaps, experience the indulgence of our readers if we take the opportunity, afforded to us by a poem of great power, of explaining the nature of the occasional change alluded to, and of making a few remarks on the consequences resulting from it.
Poetical criticism of old was a laborious task, undertaken with a due respect for the subject of its animadversions, yet sustained with a due sense of its own importance; it was open and responsible; professedly, perhaps ostentatiously, scientific; directed to its own proper objects, and confined within the limits of its own province. Ignorance in the individual might occasionally make this criticism contemptible, or malevolence render it odious; the witlings too of every age have claimed a prescriptive right of amusing themselves at the expense of the critics. But these were not axéce Bean; they fell innocuous--and, on the whole, however its comparative rank in the scale of literature might vary at different periods, poetical criticism was, and could not fail to be, highly respectable.
We have said that it was confined to the limits of its own proper province; if we were required to explain what we understand that to be, we should say that poetical criticism should properly be conversant with every thing in poetry, but that which flows exclusively and directly from the native power of the poet. It should watch over the correctness of language, metre, imagery, metaphor, the appropriateness of all these both to the character of the whole, and to the particular part under examination. This is one class of its duties; another, though less strictly so, is to observe upon the positive richness and variety of these ingredients, the force and glow of the language, the harmony and changing cadence of the versification, the perfection and grouping of the imagery, the number and vividness of the metaphors. Rising still higher, but still within the same limits, its duty is to consider the choice of the subject in many different points of view, the relation of the parts to each other, the unity of the whole; the conception, the sustainment, the contrast of the personages, the purity of the thoughts and the general moral effect of the poem.
Our readers may perhaps smile at the terms 'confined,' and limits,' when they consider the arduous, and extensive province which we have assigned to the poetical critic; and we are aware that it might be hard for us to instance any single individual who had filled up with success the outline of duties here sketched. But it is not necessary for our argument that we should do so—it is enough if we have represented fairly the general system on which poetical criticism then proceeded, and the objects usually kept in view by it. The practice, at least of the present day, is very different-poetical criticism is no longer a laborious, or a responsible
task; it is chiefly anonymous, and confined to short disquisitions in periodical journals. As no system is digested, and no principles recurred to, little preparation or knowledge is deemed necessary. The lawyer steals an evening from his brief, the merchant from his accounts; the fine gentleman sacrifices a rout or an opera. We intend to speak disrespectfully of no one, but it is manifestly very unlikely that such men should be fitted to fulfil the task they assume according to the description above given of it-but even if they were, it would not answer the purpose with which they undertake it, so to fulfil it. They are in general men of brilliant talents; and they become critics to display those talents in the manner most attractive to the circle in which they move. This is not to be done by minute and even verbal examination, by analysis, or by recurrence to standards and fixed principles; such criticism would have very little chance of being read with delight discipularum inter cathedras, or of being carried home, and noted down from the persiflante' conversation of our literary parties. The criticism, therefore, of the present day, as might be expected, dwells chiefly on topics more attractive in themselves, and which those who profess the art are more qualified to treat in an attractive manner. Thus we have highly wrought, and not very short descriptions of poetry in general, ingenious theories respecting poetic power, genius and association, parallels drawn, and contrasts exhibited between the sister arts; rapturous declamations on fancy, the picturesque, natural beauty, and harmony; general comparisons between the fables of different poems, and the characteristic qualities of different poets, with an artful selection either of the best or worst passages of the work under consideration. It is not surprising that these critiques should be commonly very entertaining, for they are commonly the production of ingenious men writing upon elegant and interesting subjects, subjects too, be it always remembered, upon which it only requires talent to write brilliant and plausible essays. They have too another charm, in the exact quantity of metaphysical knowledge which they presuppose or require in the reader. Of all the gratifications of intellectual vanity and indolence with which the literature and philosophy of the present day abound, there is none so soothing and delicious to minds elegantly informed but not soundly disciplined, as to play upon the surface of metaphysics.
But entertaining as such critiques certainly are, it is manifest that they contribute very slightly to the true ends of criticism; they do not regulate or improve the taste either of the public or the poet. The public, flattered and entertained as it is for a time, is not deceived in the main; it is too plain for the dullest not to see that those who fill the chair of criticism teach none of its princi
judged; the consequence is that they are read and admired, but neither consulted nor remembered. This is not the worst however; for criticism might act indirectly with more force even than by immediate application to the public: if those who write poetry were taught to do so with a proper knowledge of the principles of their art, and with a due observance of them, the taste of those who read it could not long be very uncultivated. But how should the genus irritabile respect the opinions of the modern critic? They see in him in general an ambitious rival, one who approaches them inost injudiciously on their own ground, who is not intent upon laying before the world a fair examination of their faults and beauties, but solicitous only that the critique should be at least as shining and poetical as the poem itself.
It would be imprudent probably, and certainly would be invidious for us to insist at greater length upon this irrelevancy of matter, and false brilliance of manner in modern criticism; but we must briefly notice two errors flowing from them which, as we think, characterise modern poems and poets. As criticism becomes lowly rated, all rules become equally neglected; the only thing sought after is the exhibition of talent; point out to a poet a tame passage in this page, and he answers with a beautiful one in the next; in short no one aims at producing a good and perfect poem, the monumentum are perennius, which former bards delighted to consume a life in building up; but to give proof by brilliant flashes that he might if he pleased have written such a poem.
The other error is a natural one, but it lies at the root of all poetical criticism-it is this, that the poet learns to believe no one but himself or a brother poet competent to judge of his productions; it is, according to his argument, a question of feeling and power, and he who neither feels so acutely, nor wields such mental energies as his own, can be no proper censor of the propriety of their joint result. Now we hate the cant of criticism as much as any wit or poet of any age or nation, and we certainly shall hardly be accused of a desire to shelter its abuses, or excuse the follies of individual critics; but of criticism itself rightly employed, we will say that the poet who denies its jurisdiction has never thoroughly considered, and does not rightly understand, the real nature of the poetic character.
We now proceed to a task, perhaps too long delayed—an examination of the poem before us. Mr. Milman's choice of a subject would have been in many respects a happy one, if all our impressions from history did not run counter to the truth of its catastrophe. He celebrates the defeat and expulsion of the Saxon invaders from this country with the re-establishment of the British monarchy. His