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me I cannot find out the lie, with all my experience in those matters.

"Now tell me had you rather be?" Cannot our writers perceive that "had be" is not English? "Would you rather be" is grammatical. "I'd" sounds much the same when it signifies "I would." The latter with slighter contraction is "l'ou'd;" hence the corruption goes farther.

Southey. This is just and true; but we must not rest too often, too long, or too pressingly, on verbal criticism.

Porson. Do you, so accurate a grammarian, say this? To pass over such vulgarisms; which indeed the worst writers seldom fall into; if the words are silly, idle, or inapplicable, what becomes

*

of the sentence? Those alone are to be classed as verbal critics who can catch and comprehend no more than a word here and there, and who lay more stress upon it, if faulty, than upon all the beauties in the best authors. But unless we, who sit perched and watchful on a higher branch than the word-catchers, and who live on somewhat more substantial than syllables, do catch the word, that which is dependent on the word must escape us also. Now do me the favour to read the rest; for I have only just breath enough to converse, and your voice will give advantages to the poetry which mine can not.

Southey (reads.)

"In careless mood he look'd at me,

While still I held him by the arm,
And said, At Kilve I'd rather be
Than here at Liswyn-farm.'
Now, little Edward, say why so,

My little Edward tell me why."

Porson. Where is the difference of meaning betwixt

and

"Little Edward, say why so,"

"Little Edward, tell me why ?'

Southey (reads.)

"I cannot tell, I do not know."

"

Porson. Again, where is the difference between "I cannot tell," and "I do not know?" Southey (reads.)

"Why, this is strange, said I."

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Porson. Can we wonder that the boy saw "plain" a broad and gilded vane," on the house-top just before him? Southey (reads.)

"Thus did the boy his tongue unlock," Porson. I wish the father had kept the Bramah key in his breeches pocket. Southey (reads.)

"And eased his mind with this reply," Porson. When he had written "did unlock,"

he should likewise have written "and ease," not

" and eased."

Southey (reads.)

"At Kilve there was no weathercock,
And that's the reason why.

O dearest, dearest boy! my heart

For better lore would seldom yearn,
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn."

Porson. What is flat ought to be plain; but who can expound to me the thing here signified? Who can tell me where is the lie, and which is the liar? If the lad told a lie, why praise him so? And if he spoke the obvious truth, what has he taught the father? "The hundredth part" of the lore communicated by the child to the parent may content him: but whoever is contented with a hundredfold more than all they both together have given us, cannot be very ambitious of becoming a senior wrangler. These, in good truth,

are verses

"Pleni ruris et inficetiarum."

"Dank, limber verses, stuft with lakeside sedges,
And propt with rotten stakes from broken hedges."
In the beginning of these I forbore to remark
"On Kilve by the green sea."

When I was in Somersetshire, Neptune had not
parted with his cream-coloured horses, and there
was no green sea within the horizon. The an-
cients used to give the sea the colour they saw in it;
Homer dark-blue, as in the Hellespont, the Ionian,
and Egæan; Virgil blue-green, as along the coast

Porson. And I join in the opinion, if he in- of Naples and Sorento : I suspect, from his cha

tends it for poetry.

Southey (reads.)

"For here are woods, hills smooth and warm; There surely must some reason be."

Porson. This is among the least awkward of his inversions, which are more frequent in him, and more awkward, than in any of his contemporaries. Somewhat less so would be

"Surely some reason there must be," or
"Some reason surely there must be," or
"Some reason there must surely be."

Without ringing more changes, which we might
do, he had the choice of four inversions, and he
has taken the worst.

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racter, he never went a league off land. He kept usually, both in person and poetry, to the vada cærula.

Southey. But he hoisted purple sails, and the mother of his Æneas was at the helm.

Porson. How different from Mr. Wordsworth's

wash-tub, pushed on the sluggish lake by a dumb

idiot! We must leave the sea-shore for the ditch-
side, and get down to "the small Celandine."
I will now relieve you give me the book.
"Pleasures newly found are sweet"

What a discovery! I never heard of any pleasures
that are not.

"When they lie about our feet." Does that make them the sweeter?

"February last."

How poetical!

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What an inversion! A club-foot is not enough, "analytically and severely." Had I done it severely, but the heel is where the toe should be.

"I have not a doubt but he

Whosoe'er the man might be,
Who the first with pointed rays
(Workman worthy to be sainted)
Set the signboard in a blaze,” &c.

Really is there any girl of fourteen whose poetry, being like this, the fondest mother would lay before her most intimate friends? If a taste for what the French call niaiserie were prevalent, he who should turn his ridicule so effectively against it as to put it entirely out of fashion, would per form a far greater service than that glorious wit Cervantes, who shattered the last helmet of knight-errantry. For in knight-errantry there was the stout, there was the strenuous, there was

sound homeliness under courtly guise, and the ornamental was no impediment to the manly. But in niaiserie there are ordinarily the debilitating fumes of self-conceit, and nothing is there about it but what is abject and ignoble. Shall we go on? Southey. As you heard me patiently when we met before, it is fair and reasonable that I should attend to you, now you have examined more carefully what I recommended to your perusal. But I do not understand your merriment.

Porson. My merriment is excited now, and was excited on a former occasion, by the fervour of your expression, that "Pindar would not have braced a poem to more vigour, nor Euripides have breathed into it more tenderness and passion."

Southey. I spoke of the Laodamia.

Porson. Although I gave way to pleasantry instead of arguing the point with you, I had a great deal more to say, Mr. Southey, than I said at the first starting of so heavy a runner in his race with Pindar. We will again walk over a part of the ground.

With sacrifice before the rising morn

Performed, my slaughtered lord have I required,' And in thick darkness, amid shades forlorn,

Him of the infernal gods have I 'desired.'”

I only remember, at the time, that the second and fourth verses terminate too much alike. "Desired" may just as well be where "required" is, and "required" where "desired" is: both are wretchedly weak, and both are preceded by the same words, "have I."

Southey. He has corrected them at your suggestion; not indeed much (if anything) for the better; and he has altered the conclusion, making it more accordant with morality and Christianity, but somewhat less perhaps with Greek manners and sentiments, as they existed in the time of the Trojan war.

Porson. Truly it was far enough from these before. Acknowledge that the fourth line is quite unnecessary, and that the word "performed," in the second, is prosaic.

you would have caught me by the wrist and have intercepted the stroke. Show me, if you can, a single instance of falsity or unfairness in any of these remarks. If you can not, pray indulge me at least in as much hilarity as my position, between a sick bed and a sorry book, will allow me. Southey. I must catch the wrist here. The book, as you yourself conceded, comprehends many beautiful things.

I

will maintain it: but there are more mawkish. Porson. I have said it; I have repeated it; and This very room has many things of value in it: yet the empty phials are worth nothing, and several of the others are uninviting. Beside yourself, I know scarcely a critic in England sufficiently versed and sufficiently candid to give a correct decision on our poets. All others have their parties; most have their personal friends. On and darkling, who conjure up the phantom of an the side opposite to these, you find no few morose enemy in every rising reputation. You are too wise and too virtuous to resemble them. On this cool have observed that the herbage is softest and green bank of literature you stand alone. I always finest in elevated places; and that we may repose The little folks who congregate beneath you, with most safety and pleasantness on lofty minds. seem to think of themselves as Pope thought of

the women:

"The critic who deliberates is lost."

Southey. Hence random assertions, heats, animosities, missiles of small wit, clouds hiding every object under them, forked lightnings of illdirected censure, and thunders of applause lost in the vacuity of space. I do not find that our critics are fond of suggesting any emendations of

the passages they censure in their contemporaries, as you have done in the ancients. Will not you tell me, for the benefit of the author, if there is anything in the Lyrical Ballads which you could materially improve?

Porson. Tell me first if you can turn a straw into a walking-stick. When you have done this, I will try what I can do. But I never can do that for Mr. Wordsworth which I have sometimes done for his betters. His verses are as he wrote them; and we must leave them as they are: theirs are not so; and faults committed by transcribers or printers may be corrected. In Macbeth, for example, we read,

"The raven himself is hoarse,

That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan," &c.

Is there anything marvellous in a raven being hoarse? which is implied by the word "himself:" that is to say, even the raven, &c. Shakspeare wrote one letter more; "The raven himself is hoarser."

Southey. Surely you could easily correct in the Lyrical Ballads faults as obvious.

Porson. If they were as well worth my attention. Southey. Many are deeply interested by the simple tales they convey in such plain easy language.

Porson. His language is often harsh and dissonant, and his gait is like one whose waistband has been cut behind. There may be something "interesting" in the countenance of the sickly, and even of the dead, but it is only life that can give us enjoyment. Many beside lexicographers place in the same line simplicity and silliness: they can not separate them as we can. They think us monsters, because we do not see what they see, and because we see plainly what they never can see at all. There is often most love where there is the least acquaintance with the object loved. So it is with these good people who stare at the odd construction of our minds. Homely and poor thoughts may be set off by facility and gracefulness of language; here they often want both.

Southey. Harmonious words render ordinary ideas acceptable; less ordinary, pleasant; novel and ingenious ones, delightful. As pictures and statues, and living beauty too, show better by music-light, so is poetry irradiated, vivified, glorified, and raised into immortal life, by harmony.

Porson. Ay, Mr. Southey, and another thing may be noticed. The Muses should be as slow to loosen the zone as the Graces* are. The poetical form, like the human, to be beautiful, must be succinct. When we grow corpulent, we are commonly said to lose our figure. By this loss of figure we are reduced and weakened. So, there not being bone nor muscle nor blood enough in your client, to rectify and support his accretions, he collapses into unswathable flabbiness. We must never disturb him in this condition, which appears to be thought, in certain parts of the country, as much a peculiar mark of Heaven's favour, as idiocy is among the Turks. I have usually found his sticklers, like those good folks, dogmatical and dull. One of them lately tried to persuade me that he never is so highly poetical as when he is deeply metaphysical. When I stared, he smiled benignly, and said, with a deep sigh that relieved us both, "Ah! you may be a Grecian !" He then quoted fourteen German poets of the first order, and expressed his compassion for Eschylus and Homer. Southey. What a blessing are metaphysics to our generation! A poet or other who can make nothing clear, can stir up enough sediment to render the bottom of a basin as invisible as the deepest gulf in the Atlantic. The shallowest pond, if turbid, has depth enough for a goose to hide its head in.

Porson. I quoted to my instructor in criticism the Anecdote for Fathers: he assured me it is as clear as day; not meaning a London day in particular, such as this. But there are sundry gentlemen who, like cats, see clearly in the dark, and far from clearly anywhere else. Hold them where, if they were tractable and docile, you might show

* Zonamque segnes solvere Gratiæ.

them your objections, and they will swear and claw at you to show how spiteful you are. Others say they wonder that judicious men differ from them. No doubt they differ; and there is but one reason for it, which is, because they are so. Again, there are the gentle and conciliatory, who say merely that they can not quite think with you. Have they thought at all? Granting both premises, have they thought, or can they think rightly?

Southey. To suppose the majority can, is to suppose an absurdity; and especially on subjects which require so much preparatory study, such a variety of instruction, such deliberation, delicacy, and refinement. When I have been told, as I often have been, that I shall find very few of my opinion, certainly no compliment was intended me; yet there are few, comparatively, whom nature has gifted with intuition or exquisite taste; few whose ideas have been drawn, modelled, marked, chiselled, and polished, in a studio well lighted from above. The opinion of a thousand millions who are ignorant or ill-informed, is not equal to the opinion of only one who is wiser. This is too self-evident for argument; yet we hear about the common sense of mankind! A common sense which, unless the people receive it from their betters, leads them only into common error. If such is the case, and we have the testimony of all ages for it, in matters which have most attracted their attention, matters in which their nearest interests are mainly concerned, in politics, in religion, in the education of their families, how greatly, how surpassingly, must it be in those which require a peculiar structure of understanding, a peculiar endowment of mind, a peculiar susceptibility, and almost an undivided application. In what regards poetry, I should just as soon expect a sound judgment of its essentials from a boatman or a waggoner, as from the usual set of persons we meet in society; persons not uneducated, but deriving their intelligence from little gutters and drains round about. The mud is easily raised to the surface in so shallow a receptacle, and nothing is seen distinctly or clearly. Whereas the humbler man has received no false impressions, and may therefore to a limited extent be right. As for books in general, it is only with men like you that I ever open my lips upon them in conversation. In my capacity of reviewer, dispassionate by temperament, equitable by principle, and, moreover, for fear of offending God and of suffering in my conscience, I dare not leave behind me in my writings either a false estimate or a frivolous objection.

Porson. Racy wine comes from the high vineyard. There is a spice of the scoundrel in most of our literary men; an itch to filch and detract in the midst of fair-speaking and festivity. This is the reason why I never have much associated with them. There is also another: we have nothing in common but the alphabet. The most popular of our critics have no heart for poetry ; it is morbidly sensitive on one side, and utterly

callous on the other. They dandle some little poet, and will never let you take him off their knees; him they feed to bursting with their curds and whey. Another they warn off the premises, and will give him neither a crust nor a crumb, until they hear he has succeeded to a large estate in popularity, with plenty of dependants; then they sue and supplicate to be admitted among the number; and, lastly, when they hear of his death, they put on mourning, and advertise to raise a monument or a club-room to his memory. You, Mr. Southey, will always be considered the soundest and the fairest of our English critics; and indeed, to the present time, you have been the only one of very delicate perception in poetry. But your admirable good-nature has thrown a costly veil over many defects and some deformities. To guide our aspirants, you have given us (and here accept my thanks for them) several good inscriptions, much nearer the style of antiquity than any others in our language, and better, indeed much better, than the Italian ones of Chiabrera. I myself have nothing original about me; but here is an inscription which perhaps you will remember in Theocritus,* and translated to the best of my ability.

INSCRIPTION ON A STATUE OF LOVE.
"Mild he may be, and innocent to view,
Yet who on earth can answer for him? You
Who touch the little god, mind what ye do!
"Say not that none has caution'd you: although
Short be his arrow, slender be his bow,

The king Apollo's never wrought such woe." This and one petty skolion, are the only things I have attempted. The skolion is written by Geron. "He who in waning age would moralize,

With leaden finger weighs down joyous eyes;
Youths too, with all they say, can only tell
What maids know well :

"And yet if they are kind, they hear it out
As patiently as if they clear'd a doubt.
I will not talk like either. Come with me;
Look at the tree!

"Look at the tree while still some leaves are green;
Soon must they fall. Ah! in the space between
Lift those long eyelashes above your book,
For the last look!"

Southey. I cannot recollect them in the Greek. Porson. Indeed! Perhaps I dreamt it then; for Greek often plays me tricks in my dreams.

Southey. I wish it would play them oftener with our poets. It seems to entertain a peculiar grudge against the most celebrated of them.

Porson. Our conversation has been enlivened and enriched by what seemed sufficiently sterile in its own nature; but, by tossing it about, we have made it useful. Just as certain lands are said to profit by scrapings from the turnpikeroad. After this sieving, after this pounding and trituration of the coarser particles, do you really find in Mr. Wordsworth such a vigour and variety, such a selection of thoughts and images, as authorise you to rank him with Scott and Burns and Cowper?

* Where?

Southey. Certainly not: but that is no reason why he should be turned into ridicule on all occasions. Must he be rejected and reviled as a poet, because he wishes to be also a philosopher? Or must he be taunted and twitted for weakness, because by his nature he is quiescent?

Porson. No indeed; though much of this quiescency induces debility, and is always a sign of it in poetry. Let poets enjoy their sleep; but let them not impart it, nor take it amiss if they are shaken by the shoulder for the attempt. I reprehended at our last meeting, as severely as you yourself did, those mischievous children who played their pranks with him in his easy-chair; and I drove away from him those old women who brought him their drastics from the Edinburgh Dispensary. Poor souls! they are all swept off! Sydney Smith, the wittiest man alive, could not keep them up, by administering a nettle and a shove to this unsaved remnant of the Baxter Christians.

Southey. The heaviest of them will kick at you the most viciously. Castigation is not undue to him; for he has snipt off as much as he could pinch from every author of reputation in his time. It is less ungenerous to expose such people than to defend them.

Porson. Let him gird up his loins, however, and be gone; we will turn where correction ought to be milder, and may be more efficient. Give a trifle of strength and austerity to the squashiness of our friend's poetry, and reduce in almost every piece its quantity to half. Evaporation will render it likelier to keep. Without this process, you will shortly have it only in the form of extracts. You talk of philosophy in poetry; and in poetry let it exist; but let its veins run through a poem, as our veins run through the body, and never to be too apparent; for the prominence of veins, in both alike, is a symptom of weakness, feverishness, and senility. On the ground where we are now standing, you have taken one end of the blanket, and I the other; but it is I chiefly who have shaken the dust out. Nobody can pass us without seeing it rise against the sunlight, and observing what a heavy cloud there is of it. While it lay quietly in the flannel, it lay without suspicion.

I am

Southey. Let us return, if you please, to one among the partakers of your praise, whose philosophy is neither obtrusive nor abstruse. highly gratified by your commendation of Cowper, than whom there never was a more virtuous or more amiable man. In some passages, he stands quit unrivalled by any recent poet of this century; none, indeed, modern or ancient, has touched the heart more delicately, purely, and effectively, than he has done in Crazy Kate, in Lines on his Mother's Picture, in Omai, and on hearing Bells at a Distance.

Porson. Thank you for the mention of bells. Mr. Wordsworth, I remember, speaks, in an authoritative and scornful tone of censure, on Cowper's "church-going" bell, treating the expression as a

gross impropriety and absurdity. True enough, | men in the world !) is called a "proud man," and the church-going bell does not go to church any is coolly and flippantly told that more than I do; neither does the passing-bell pass

"Great heights are hazardous to the weak head,"

"To the weak head great heights are hazardous."

the same funny style he writes

"O that some courteous ghost would blab it out, What 'tis they are."

any more than I; nor does the curfew-bell cover which the poet might have turned into a verse, if any more fire than is contained in Mr. Words- he had tried again, as we will: worth's poetry: but the church-going bell is that which is rung for people going to church; the passing-bell for those passing to heaven; the In curfew-bell for the burgesses and villagers to cover their fires. He would not allow me to be called well-spoken, nor you to be called well-read; and yet, by this expression, I should mean to signify that you have read much, and I should employ another in signifying that you have been much read. Incomparably better is Cowper's Winter than Virgil's, which is indeed a disgrace to the Georgics; or than Thomson's, which in places is grand. But would you on the whole compare Cowper with Dryden ?

Southey. Dryden possesses a much richer store of thoughts, expatiates upon more topics, has more vigour, vivacity, and animation. He is always shrewd and penetrating, explicit and perspicuous, concise, where conciseness is desirable, and copious where copiousness can yield delight. When he aims at what is highest in poetry, the dramatic, he falls below his Fables. However, I would not compare the poetical power of Cowper with his; nor would I, as some have done, pit Young against him. Young is too often fastastical and frivolous; he pins butterflies to the pulpitcushion; he suspends against the grating of the charnel-house coloured lamps and comic transparencies, Cupid, and the cat and the fiddle; he opens a store-house filled with minute particles of heterogeneous wisdom, and unpalatable gobbets of ill-concocted learning, contributions from the classics, from the schoolmen, from homilies, and from farces. What you expect to be an elegy turns out an epigram; and when you think he is bursting into tears, he laughs in your face. Do you go with him into his closet, prepared for an admonition or a rebuke, he shakes his head, and you sneeze at the powder and perfumery of his peruke. Wonder not if I prefer to his pungent essences the incense which Cowper burns before

the altar.

Porson. Young was, in every sense of the word, an ambitious man. He had strength, but wasted it. Blair's Grave has more spirit in it than the same portion of the Night Thoughts; but never was poetry so ill put together; never was there so good a poem, of the same extent, from which so great a quantity of what is mere trash might be rejected. The worse blemish in it is the ridicule and scoffs, cast not only on the violent and grasp ing, but equally on the gentle, the beautiful, the studious, the eloquent, and the manly. It is ugly enough to be carried quietly to the grave; it is uglier to be hissed and hooted into it. Even the quiet astronomer,

"With study pale, and midnight vigils spent," is not permitted to depart in peace, but (of all

Courtesy and blabbing, in this upper world of ours, are thought to be irreconcilable; but blabbing may not be indecorous nor derogatory to the character of courtesy in a ghost. However, the expression is an uncouth one; and when we find it so employed, we suspect the ghost cannot have been keeping good company, but, as the king said to the miller of Mansfield, that his "courtesy is but small." Cowper plays in the play-ground, and not in the churchyard. Nothing of his is out of place or out of season. He possessed a rich vein of ridicule, but he turned it to good account, opening it on prig parsons, and graver and worse impostors. He was among the first who put to flight the mischievous little imps of allegory, so cherished and fondled by the Wartons. They are as bad in poetry as mice in a cheeseroom. You poets are still rather too fond of the unsubstantial. Some will have nothing else than what they call pure imagination. Now air-plants ought not to fill the whole conservatory; other plants, I would modestly suggest, are worth culti vating, which send their roots pretty deep into the ground. I hate both poetry and wine without body. Look at Shakspeare, Bacon, and Milton; were these your pure-imagination-men? The least of them, whichever it was, carried a jewel of poetry about him, worth all his tribe that came after. Did the two of them who wrote in verse build upon nothing? Did their predecessors? And, pray, whose daughter was the Muse they invoked? Why, Memory's. They stood among substantial men, and sang upon recorded actions. The plain of Scamander, the promontory of Sigæum, the palaces of Tros and Dardanus, the citadel in which the Fates sang mournfully under the image of Minerva, seem fitter places for the Muses to alight on, than artificial rockwork or than faery-rings. But your great favourite, I hear, is Spenser, who shines in allegory, and who, like an aerolithe, is dull and heavy when he descends to the ground.

Southey. He continues a great favourite with me still, although he must always lose a little as our youth declines. Spenser's is a spacious but somewhat low chamber, hung with rich tapestry, on which the figures are mostly disproportioned, but some of the faces are lively and beautiful; the furniture is part creaking and worm-eaten, part fragrant with cedar and sandal-wood and aromatic gums and balsams; every table and mantelpiece and cabinet is covered with gorgeous vases, and birds, and dragons, and houses in the air.

Porson. There is scarcely a poet of the same

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