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Never did either poet or lover gain anything by the reluctance that anything should be lost; the complaining.
unconsciousness that the paring is less nutritious Southey. Such sparks as our critics are in gene- and less savoury than the core; in short, the ral, give neither warmth nor light, and only make prolix, the prosaic; a sickly sameness of colour; people stare and stand out of the way, lest they a sad deficiency of vital heat. should fall on them.
Southey. Where the language is subdued and Porson. Those who have assaulted you and somewhat cold, there may nevertheless be internal Mr. Wordsworth are perhaps less malicious than warmth and spirit. There is a paleness in intense unprincipled; the pursuivants of power, or the fires; they do not flame out nor sparkle. As you running footmen of faction. Your patience is know, Mr. Professor, it is only a weak wine that admirable ; his impatience is laughable. Nothing sends the cork up to the ceiling. is more amusing than to see him raise his bristles Porson. I never was fond of the florid : but I and expose his tusk at every invader of his brush- would readily pardon the weak wine you allude wood, every marauder of his hips and haws. to, for committing this misdemeanour. Upon my
Southey. Among all the races of men, we Eng- word, I have no such complaint to make against lish are at once the most generous and the most it. I said little at the time about these poems, ill-tempered. We all carry sticks in our hands to and usually say little more on better. In our cut down the heads of the higher poppies. praises and censures, we should see before us one
Porson. A very high poppy, and surcharged sole object : instruction. A single well-set post, with Lethean dew, is that before us. But continue. with a few plain letters upon it, directs us better
Southey. I would have added, that each resents than fifty that turn about and totter, covered as in another any injustice; and resents it indeed so they may be from top to bottom with coronals violently, as to turn unjust on the opposite side. and garlands. Wordsworth, in whose poetry you yourself admit Southey. We have about a million critics in there are many and great beauties, will, I am Great Britain ; not a soul of which critics enterafraid, be tossed out of his balance by a sudden tains the slightest doubt of his own infallibility. jerk in raising him.
You, with all your learning and all your canons of Porson. Nothing more likely. The reaction criticism, will never make them waver. may be as precipitate as the pull is now violent Porson. We will not waste our breath on the against him. Injudicious friends will cause him best of them. Rather let me turn toward you, so less uneasiness, but will do him greater mischief zealous, so ardent, so indefatigable a friend, and, than intemperate opponents.
if reports are true, so ill-requited. When your Southey. You can not be accused of either fault: client was the ridicule of all the wits in England, but you demand too much, and pardon no remiss- of whom Canning and Frere were foremost, by your ness. However, you have at no time abetted by indignation at injustice he was righted, and more your example the paltry pelters of golden fruit than righted. For although you attributed to paled out from them.
him what perhaps was not greatly above his due, Porson. Removed alike from the crowd and the yet they who acknowledge your authority, and coterie, I have always avoided, with timid pru- contend under your banner, have carried him dence, the bird-cage walk of literature. I have with much further; nay, further, I apprehend, than is bolden from Herman and some others, a part of expedient or safe ; and they will drop him before what is due to them; and I regret it. Sometimes the day closes, where there is nobody to show the I have been arrogant, never have I been malicious. way home. Unhappily, I was educated in a school of criticism Southey. Could not you, Mr. Professor, do that where the exercises were too gladiatorial. Looking good service to him, which others in another proat my elders in it, they appeared to me so ugly, in vince have so often done to you? part from their contortions, and in part from their Porson. Nobody better, nobody with less danger scars, that I suspected it must be a dangerous from interruptions. But I must be even more thing to wield a scourge of vipers ; and I thought enthusiastic than you are, if I prefer this excurit no very creditable appointment to be link boy sion to your conversation. My memory, although or pandar at an alley leading down to the Furies. the strongest part of me, is apt to stagger and Age and infirmity have rendered me milder than swerve under verses piled incompactly. In our I was. I am loth to fire off my gun in the warren last meeting, you had him mostly to yourself, and which lies before us; loth to startle the snug you gave me abundantly of the best ; at present, little creatures, each looking so comfortable at the while my gruel is before me, it appears no unseamouth of its burrow, or skipping about at short sonable time to throw a little salt into both occadistances, or frisking and kicking up the sand sionally, as may suit my palate. You will not along the thriftless heath. You have shown me be displeased ? some very good poetry in your author : I have Southey. Certainly not, unless you are unjust; some very bad in him to show you. Each of our nor even then, unless I find the injustice to be actions is an incitement to improve him. But founded on ill-will. what we cannot improve or alter, lies in the con- Porson. That can not be. I stand stitution of the man : the determination to hold
“ Despicere unde queam tales, passimque videre you in one spot until you have heard him through;
Beside, knowing that my verdicts will be regis- poetically expressed. Few, however, are there tered and recorded, I dare not utter a hasty or an which do not contain much of the superfluous, inconsiderate one. I lay it down as an axiom, and more of the prosaic. For one nod of approthat languor is the cause or the effect of most dis- bation, I therefore give two of drowsiness. You orders, and is itself the very worst in poetry. accuse me of injustice, not only to this author, Wordsworth's is an instrument which has no but to all the living. Now Byron is living; trumpet-stop.
there is more spirit in Byron : Scott is living; Southey. But, such as it is, he blows it well. there is more vivacity and variety in Scott. Byron Surely it is something to have accompanied sound exhibits disjecti membra poetæ ; and strong mussense with pleasing harmony, whether in verse cles quiver throughout; but rather like galvanism or prose.
than healthy life. There is a freshness in all Porson. What is the worth of a musical instru- Scott's scenery; a vigour and distinctness in all ment which has no high key ? Even Pan's pipe his characters. He seems the brother-in-arms of rises above the baritones; yet I never should mis- Froissart. I admire his Marmion in particular. take it for an organ.
Give me his massy claymore, and keep in the Southey. It is evident that you are ill-disposed cabinet or the boudoir the jewelled hilt of the to countenance the moderns; I mean principally oriental dirk. The pages which my forefinger the living.
keeps open for you, contain a thing in the form Porson. They are less disposed to countenance of a sonnet; a thing to which, for insipidity, one another.
tripe au naturel is a dainty. Southey. Where there is genius there should be “ Great men have been among us, hands that penned geniality. The curse of quarrelsomeness, of hand And tongues that uttered wisdom; better none, against every man, was inflicted on the children The later Sydney, Marvel, Harrington, of the desert; not on those who pastured their
Young Vane, and others who called Milton friend." flocks on the fertile banks of the Euphrates, or When he potted these fat lampreys, he forgot the contemplated the heavens from the elevated condiments, which the finest lampreys want; but ranges of Chaldea.
how close and flat he has laid them! I see noPorson. Let none be cast down by the malice thing in poetry since of their contemporaries, or surprised at the defec
“ Four-and-twenty fiddlers all in a row," tion of their associates, when he himself who has tended more than any man living to purify the fit to compare with it. How the good men and poetry and to liberalize the criticism of his na- true stand, shoulder to shoulder, and keep one tion, is represented, by one whom he has called another up! " inoffensive and virtuous," as an author all whose Southey. In these censures and sarcasms, you poetry is “not worth five shillings," and of whom forget another has said that “ his verses sound like “ Alcandrumque Haliumque Noemonaque Prytanimque." dumb-bells.” Such are the expressions of two From the Spanish I could bring forward many among your friends and familiars, both under
such. obligations to you for the earliest and weightiest
Porson. But here is a sonnet; and the sonnet testimony in their favour. It would appear as if admits not that approach to the prosaic which is the exercise of the poetical faculty left irritation allowable in the ballad, particularly in the ballad and weakness behind it, depriving its possessor at of action. For which reason I never laughed, as once of love and modesty, and making him resemble a spoilt child, who most indulges in its many did, at frowardness when you exclaim “what a spoilt
“Lord Lion King at Arms." child it is!” and carry it crying and kicking out Scott knew what he was about. In his chivalry, of the room.
Your poetical neighbours, I hear, and in all the true, gaiety is mingled with complain bitterly that you never have lauded strength, and facility with majesty. Lord Lion them at large in your Critical Reviews.
may be defended by the practice of the older Southey. I never have; because one grain of poets who describe the like scenes and advencommendation more to the one than the other tures. There is much resembling it, for instance, would make them enemies; and no language of in Chevy Chase. Marmion is a poem of chivalry, mine would be thought adequate by either to his partaking (in some measure) of the ballad, but deserts. Each could not be called the greatest rising in sundry places to the epic, and closing poet of the age; and by such compliance I should with a battle worthy of the Niad. Ariosto has have been for ever divested of my authority as a demonstrated that a romance may be so adorned critic. I lost, however, no opportunity of com- by the apparatus, and so elevated by the spirit of mending heartily what is best in them; and I poetry, as to be taken for an epic; but it has a have never obtruded on anyone's notice what is wider field of its own, with outlying forests and amiss, but carefully concealed it. I wish you chases. Spanish and Italian poetry often seems were equally charitable.
to run in extremely slender veins through a vast Porson. I will be ; and generous too. There extent of barren ground. are several things in these volumes, beside that Southey. But often, too, it is pure and plastic. which you recited, containing just thoughts The republicans, whose compact phalanx you have unsparingly ridiculed in Wordsworth's son- Southey. I do not agree in this opinion : for net, make surely no sorrier a figure than although of late years France hath exhibited no “ A Don Alvaro de Luna
man of exalted wisdom or great worth, yet surely Condestable de Castilla
her Revolution cast up several both intellectual El Re Don Juan el segundo."
and virtuous. But, like fishes in dark nights and Porson. What an admirable Spanish scholar wintry weather, allured by deceptive torches, they must Mr. Wordsworth be! How completely has came to the surface only to be speared. he transfused into his own compositions all the Porson. Although there were many deplorable spirit of those verses! Nevertheless, it is much ends in the French Revolution, there was none so to be regretted that, in resolving on simplicity, deplorable as the last sonnet's. So diffuse and he did not place himself under the tuition of pointless and aimless is not only this, but fifty Burns; which quality Burns could have taught more, that the author seems to have written them him in perfection; but others he never could in hedger's gloves, on blotting paper. If he could have imparted to such an auditor. He would by any contrivance have added to have sung in vain to him
* Perpetual emptiness unceasing change," “ Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled."
or some occasional change at least, he would have A song more animating than ever Tyrtæus sang been more tolerable. to the fife before the Spartans. But simplicity Southey. He has done it lately: he has written, in Burns is never stale and unprofitable. In although not yet published, a vast number of Burns there is no waste of words out of an ill. sonnets on Capital Punishment. shouldered sack; no troublesome running back- Porson. Are you serious ? Already he has ward and forward of little, idle, ragged ideas; no inflicted it far and wide, for divers attempts made ostentation of sentiment in the surtout of selfish- upon him to extort his meaning. ness. Where was I ?
Southey. Remember, poets superlatively great * Better none ... The later Sidney ... Young Vane ...
have composed things below their dignity. Suffice These moralists could act ... and ... comprehend !" it to mention only Milton's translation of the We might expect as much if
none were better." Psalms. “They knew how genuine glory was ...
Porson. Milton was never half so wicked a
put on! What is genuine is not put on.
regicide as when he lifted up his hand and smote
King David. He has atoned for it, however, by “ Taught us how rightfully . ... a nation ...
composing a magnificent psalm of his own, in the Did what? Took up arms? No such thing. Re- form of a sonnet. monstrated ? No, nor that. What then? Why, Southey. You mean on the massacre of the Pro"shone!" I am inclined to take the shine out of testants in Piedmont. This is indeed the noblest him for it. But how did the nation “ rightfully of sonnets. shine ?” In splendour !
Porson. There are others in Milton comparable “ Taught us how rightfully a nation shone to it, but none elsewhere. In the poems of ShakIn splendour !"
speare, which are printed as sonnets, there someNow the secret is out; make the most of it. An- times is a singular strength and intensity of other thing they taught us,
thought, with little of that imagination which was “ What strength was."
afterward to raise him highest in the universe of They did indeed, with a vengeance. Furthermore, poetry. Even the interest we take in the private they taught us what we never could have expected life of this miraculous man cannot keep the volume from such masters,
in our hands long together. We acknowledge • What strength was ... that could not bend
great power, but we experien.va great weariness. But in magnanimous meekness."
Were I a poet, I would much rather have written Brave Oliver! brave and honest Ireton ! We know the Allegro or the Penseroso, than all those, and pretty well where your magnanimity lay; we never
moreover than nearly all that portion of our metre, could so cleverly find out your meekness
. Did you the capitulary of lyric.
which, wanting a definite term, is ranged under leave it peradventure on the window-seat at Whitehall? The “later Sidney and young Vane, who
Southey. Evidently you dislike the sonnet; could call Milton friend,” and Milton himself, otherwise there are very many in Wordsworth were gentlemen of your kidney, and they were all
which would have obtained your approbation. as meek as Moses with their arch-enemy.
Porson. I have no objection to see mince-meat “ Perpetual emptiness : unceasing change."
put into small patty-pans, all of equal size, with How could the change be unceasing if the empti- where I find it without salt or succulence. Milton
ribs at odd distances : my objection lies mainly ness was perpetual ?
was glad, I can imagine, to seize upon the sonnet, “No single volume paramount: no code :" because it restricted him from a profuse expression That is untrue. There is a Code, and the best of what soon becomes tiresome, praise. In adin Europe : there was none promulgated under dressing it to the Lord Protector, he was aware our Commonwealth.
that prolixity of speech was both unnecessary and * No master-spirit, no determined road,
indecorous : in addressing it to Vane, and LawAnd equally a want of books and men." rence, and Lawes, he felt that friendship is never
the stronger for running through long periods : / unless we had abundant proofs that heaviness, and in addressing it to
taken opportunely, is the parent of hilarity. The “ Captain, or Colonel, or Knight-at-Arms, most beautiful iris rises in bright expanse out of he might be confident that fourteen such glorious the minutest watery particles. Little fond as I lines were a bulwark sufficient for his protection am of quoting my own authority, permit me to against a royal army.
repeat, in this sick chamber, an observation I once Southey. I am highly gratified at your enthu- made in another almost as sick: siasm. A great poet represents a great portion of “ When wine and gin are gone and spent, the human race. Nature delegated to Shakspeare
Small beer is then most excellent." the interests and direction of the whole: to Milton But small beer itself is not equally small nor a smaller part, but with plenary power over it; and equally vapid. Our friend's poetry, like a cloak she bestowed on him such fervour and majesty of of gum-elastic, makes me sweat without keeping eloquence as on no other mortal in any age. me warm. With regard to the texture and sewing,
Porson. Perhaps, indeed, not on Demosthenes what think you of himself.
“ No thorns can pierce those tender feet, Southey. Without many of those qualities of
Whose life was as the violet sweet !" which a loftier genius is constituted, without much Southey. It should have been written “her fire, without a wide extent of range, without an eye tender feet;" because, as the words stand, it is the that can look into the heart, or an organ that can life of the tender feet that is sweet as the violet. touch it, Demosthenes had great dexterity and Porson. If there is a Wordsworth school, it great force. By the union of these properties he certainly is not a grammar school. Is there any always was impressive on his audience : but his lower ? It must be a school for very little boys, orations bear less testimony to the seal of genius and a rod should be hung up in the centre. Take than the dissertations of Milton do.
another sample. Porson. You judge correctly that there are “ There is a blessing in the air, several parts of genius in which Demosthenes is Which seems a sense of joy to yield." deficient, although in none whatever of the con- Was ever line so inadequate to its purpose as the summate orator. In that character there is no second! If the blessing is evident and certain, necessity for stage-exhibitions of wit, however the sense of joy arising from it must be evident well it may be received in an oration from the and certain also, not merely seeming. Whatever most persuasive and the most stately: Demos- only seems to yield a sense of joy, is scarcely a thenes, when he catches at wit, misses it, and falls blessing. The verse adds nothing to the one flat in the mire. But by discipline and training, before, but rather tends to empty it of the little by abstinence from what is florid and too juicy, it conveys. and by loitering with no idle words on his way, he “And shady groves, for recreation framed." acquired the hard muscles of a wrestler, and Recreation !” and in groves that are " framed !" nobody could stand up against him with success
“ With high respect and gratitude sincere." or impunity.
Southey. Milton has equal strength, without an This is indeed a good end of a letter, but not of a abatement of beauty: not a sinew sharp or rigid, poem. I am weary of decomposing these lines not a vein varicose or inflated. Hercules killed of sawdust : they verily would disgrace any poetryrobbers and ravishers with his knotted club; he professor. cleansed also royal stables by turning whole rivers
Southey. Acknowledging the prosaic flatness of into them: A pollo, with no labour or effort, the last verse you quoted, the sneer with which overcame the Python; brought round him, in the you pronounced the final word seems to me unfull accordance of harmony, all the Muses ; and
merited. illuminated with his sole splendour the universal
Porson. That is not gratitude which is not world. Such is the difference I see between “sincere.” A scholar ought to write nothing so Demosthenes and Milton.
incorrect as the phrase ; a poet nothing so imbePorson. Would you have anything more ofcile as the verse. Mr. Wordsworth, after the contemplation of two
Southey. Sincere conveys a stronger sense to men who resemble a god and a demi-god in the most understandings than the substantive alone degrees of power ?
would; words which we can do without, are not Southey. I do not believe you can find in therefore useless. Many may be of service and another of his poems so many blemishes and efficacy to certain minds, which other minds pass debilities as you have pointed out.
over inobservantly; and there are many which, Porson. Within the same space, perhaps not. however light in themselves, wing the way for a But my complaint is not against a poverty of well-directed point that could never reach the thought or expression here and there ; it is against heart without it. the sickliness and prostration of the whole body.
Porson. This is true in general, but here inapI should never have thought it worth my while plicable. I will tell you what is applicable on all to renew and continue our conversation on it, occasions, both in poetry and prose : quel OPLOTEVELY: unless that frequently such discussions lead to without reference to weak or common minds. something better than the thing discussed ; and If we give an entertainment, we do not set
on the table pap and panada, just because a religion. Poets may take great liberties; but not guest may be liable to indigestion : we rather much above the nymphs; they must be circumspect send these dismal dainties to his chamber, and and orderly with gods and goddesses of any actreat our heartier friends opiparously. I am count and likelihood. Although the ancients laid wandering. If we critics are logical, it is the many children at the door of Jupiter, which he most that can be required at our hands: we should never could be brought to acknowledge, yet it is go out of our record if we were philosophical. downright impiety to attribute to the God of
Southey. Without both qualities not even the Mercy, as his, so ill-favoured a vixen as Slaughter, lightest poetry should be reprehended. They do Southey. We might enter into a long disquisition not exclude wit, which sometimes shows inexact on this subject. nesses where mensuration would be tardy and Porson. God forbid we should do all we might incommodious,
do! Have you rested long enough? Come along, Porson. I fear I am at my wits' end under this then, to Goody Blake's. exhausted receiver. Here are, however, a few " Old Goody Blake was old and poor" more Ercerpta for you. I shall add but few; What is the consequence ? although I have marked with my pencil, in these
“ Ill-fed she was, and thinly clad, two small volumes, more than seventy spots of
And any man who passed her door sterility or quagmire. Mr. Wordsworth has
Might see." hitherto had for his critics men who uncovered | What might he see? and darkened his blemishes in order to profit by
“ How poor a hut she had." them, and afterward expounded his songs and expatiated on his beauties in order to obtain the
Southey. Ease and simplicity are two expressions same result; like picture-cleaners, who besmear often confounded and misapplied. We usually a picture all over with washy dirtiness, then wipe find ease arising from long practice, and someaway one-half of it, making it whiter than it ever times from a delicate ear without it; but simwas before. And nothing draws such crowds to plicity may be rustic and awkward; of which, it the window.
must be acknowledged, there are innumerable I must make you walk with me up and down examples in these volumes. But surely it would the deck, else nothing could keep you from sick- be a pleasanter occupation to recollect the many ness in this hull. How do you feel? Will you
that are natural, and to search out the few that sit down again?
are graceful. Southey. I will hear you and bear with you.
Porson. We have not yet taken our leave of Porson.
Goody Blake. “I on the earth will go plodding on
“ All day she spun in her poor dwelling, By myself cheerfully, till the day is done."
And then 'twas three hours' work at night ;
Alas! 'twas hardly worth the telling." In what other author do you find such heavy I am quite of that opinion. trash ? - How do you live and what is it you do ?”
“But when the ice our streams did fetter," Show me anything like this in the worst poet which was the fetterer? We may guess, but not
from the grammar. that ever lived, and I will acknowledge that I am the worst critic. A want of sympathy is sometimes apparent in the midst of poetical pretences.
You would have said, if you had met her," Before us a gang of gipsies, perhaps after a long Now, what would you have said ? “Goody! come journey, perhaps after a marriage, perhaps after into my house, and warm yourself with a pint of the birth of a child among them, are found rest- ale at the kitchen fire”? No such naughty thing. ing a whole day in one place. What is the reflec
“ You would have said, if you had met her, tion on it?
'Twas a hard time for Goody Blake !"
Southey. If you said only that, you must have
been the colder of the two, and God had done 0! betler wrong and strife ;
less for you than for her. Rather vain deeds or evil than such life !"
Porson. Mr. Southey! is this the man you represented to
“ Sad case it was, as you may think,
As every one who knew her says." me, in our last conversation, as innocent and philosophical ? What! better be guilty of rob. Now, mind ye! all this balderdash is from bery or bloodshed than not be looking at the “ Poems purely of the Imagination.” Such is moon? better let the fire go out and the children what is notified to us in the title-page. In spite cry with hunger and cold? The philanthropy of of a cold below zero, I hope you are awake, Mr. poets is surely ethereal, and is here, indeed, a Southey! How do you find nose and ears ? All matter of moonshine.
safe and sound? Are the acoustics in tolerable Southey. The sentiment is indefensible. But in order for harmony ? Listen then. Here follows the stoutest coat a stitch may give way somewhere. “An Anecdote for Fathers, showing how the
Porson. Our business is, in this place, with practice of Lying may be taught.” Such is the humanity. We will go forward, if you please, to title, a somewhat prolix one : but for the soul of
"Oh! then how her old bones would shake !