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white sails, skimming along as quickly, but less safely, than the SEA-MEWs which hovered over them; their evident distress, their reduction to fluttering specks in the distance, their crowded succession, their littleness, as contending with the GIANT ELEMENT!!"
Thank you, my Lord! Any one who casts his eye over the words I have marked, will see how much of NATURE, and how little of ART, appears in the poetry of this animated description; and I conclude this observation by turning the most richly coloured passage in your publication, my Lord, AGAINST yourself.
Whether the mere brawling, shipless sea, and the sullen winds, (as your Lordship, with the skill of a rhetorician, not as a reasoner, calls them,) could be as poetical without the vessels, I say not; but, when thus seen, and thus set before us, I fearlessly repeat, that to those winds, to that element so gigantic, against which their " littleness" contended, we owe the most picturesque and poetical part of the beauty of this passage.
I have observed, "that your own poetry laughed "at" your" variable" principles of criticism, and so animated were you in this description, that you must have utterly forgotten, whilst you wrote it, its tendency, which is to establish the "INVARIABLE" principles of NATURE, confirmed by yourself, on the very element with which you are so familiar.
"Take away the pyramids,' and what is the desert?" Take away Stonehenge from Salisbury plain, and it is nothing more than Hounslow Heath, or any other uninclosed down." -Byron.
I will tell you, my Lord, why a desert is poetical without a pyramid: because it conveys ideas of immeasurable extent, of profound silence, of solitude. What is Salisbury Plain without Stonehenge? Stonehenge is poetical from its traditions, and uncertain origin. (See Warton's fine sonnet.) But Hounslow Heath conveys to the mind chiefly ideas of "artificial" life,-turnpike-roads, stage-coaches in all directions, raree-showmen, whose shows "thousands" would look at, who do not look at the sun!! carts and caravans, and butcher boys scampering on horseback with one spur, and my Lord in his coach, with the "poetical LIVERYMEN” behind!
Therefore, HOUNSLOW HEATH is not so poetical as "the Desert," connected with the idea of solitude, of extent, of sands moving in the vast wilderness; of Arabs telling their wild stories by moonlight, &c.:-these make the "desert"
more poetical than Hounslow Heath, with or without a pyramid.
But we must be more particular, now we are come to
We have been taking a delightful excursion, from Venice to Constantinople, from Athens and the shore of Greece to the deserts and the Pyramids of Egypt, as on ROGERO's horse, from the pyramids and deserts of Egypt, having placed me,
"Ut magnus, modo Thebis, modo ATHENIS," you have brought me back safely to Salisbury Plain, within thirty miles of my own door.
And here it is almost time (for which I am sorry) to part, for the excursion has been pleasant; and if we have not quite agreed on the road, I hope we shall part in as good humour as we met. But before I take my leave, suffer me to recall to your recollection the first words of your sentence about the pyramids.
The reader has seen, that you have admitted they are not so poetical without the desert and its associations as with them. Now I have quoted my original positions four or five times, placed them before Mr. Campbell, the Quarterly Review, and your Lordship, and I beg and entreat you again to remember, I never said that WORKS OF ART were not poetical, (I must have been an idiot so to have said,) I only said the sublime and beautiful works of NATURE were, per se, abstractedly, MORE SO! Has the AIR of Italy, Milan, &c. affected your Lordship's recollection? "Works of nature are, per se, in what is beautiful or sublime, more poetical than any works of art."
"PASSIONS are more poetical than the manners and habits of artificial life."
If you had read what I distinctly laid down, or, having read the first propositions, remembered them, your book would not have been so pleasant, but I cannot concede that any instance you have advanced, has affected my original positions.
Your gods and goddesses; your statues, busts, temples; your arms, shields, and spears, (not forgetting Mrs. Unwin's needle and Cowper's small-clothes;) your prospects of cities. by sea, Venice, Constantinople, &c.; your pyramids and pigsties; your slop-basins and "other vessels;" your liveryman; the desert, Hounslow Heath, (why not Bagshot? it is most poetical of the two,) Salisbury Plain, the poulterer, the rab
bits, "white, black, and grey," vanish at the waving of the wand of truth; and the grotesque assembly becomes
"Like the baseless shadow of a vision."
However, as we are got safe upon Salisbury Plain at last, it is time to make my bow; and I can assure you, my Lord, I look back on many of the beautiful pictures you have painted with unfeigned delight, though still thinking my principles of poetical criticism not a jot the less "INVARIABLE," in consequence of any arguments you have brought against them.
About to take my leave on this ground, rendered far more POETICAL than Hounslow Heath, not only by Stonehenge and the tumuli of ancient Britons, those obscure records. which my friend Sir R. Hoar has so ably illustrated, but the immense rampart of Wans Dyke; I hope I have not infringed that honorable and manly courtesy which is due to a person of your Lordship's genius and talents, although they have shone so unpropitiously to myself. I have said, I do not wish to flatter you, so I profess, my Lord, not to fear you; but, as your friend Hobhouse says, a mouse will turn if he is trampled on." You are indeed distinguished as much as possible from my late assailants, the first of whom was disgusting from vulgarity; the arguments of the other were marked in an equal ratio by stupidity and sophistry;* and as "Salisbury Plain" is now before us, I might say in the peculiar phraseology of one of these brilliant writers, (as "SHAKSPEARE HAS IT!!)"
An' if I had them on SARUM PLAIN,
I'd drive them cackling home to CAMELOT!
There are one or two personal passages in your pamphlet, which it is possible, upon second thoughts, you would have omitted. Whether you would do so or not, I shall pass them over sub silentio; and hoping, in the course of this discussion, may not have said a word to give the least personal offence to your Lordship,
I remain, &c. &c.
W. L. BOWLES.
In his speech, April 16th, 1821.
2 Reviewers in the London Magazine, and in the Quarterly. The whole account of the origin and progress of this controversy may be had at Warren's, Bookseller, Bond Street, entitled "A Vindication of the Editor of Pope's works, &c."
I forgot to speak of a ship in a tempest as a poetical object; and this, probably, your Lordship may turn against me. A ship in a tempest undoubtedly is both sublime and terrible; but what makes it so? It is the intense sympathy with the terror and distress, that causes the sublimity: and do you sympathise with 'the people in the ship, or the ship? the men, or the boards? then your sympathy is derived from nature. If you knew a ship had no men in it, the terror, and those feelings which cause sublimity, would be lost. Let the ship appear in the tempest, and far greater sublimity and terror will, on this account, be given when she appears no longer.
Crabbe and Coleridge have both taken such a moment of terror, which gives an indiscribable sublimity; because, an image from nature is called up, which shows you those miserable people in despair and agony one moment; in the next, the waves are only seen, the storm only heard, and the ship gone.
Coleridge's idea is that, at midnight, he beholds a ship tossing, by one flash of lightning; another comes, and
"He sees no vessel there."
Whilst we are on the subject, allow me again to advert to that singularly affecting poem, "The Shipwreck."
How does Falconer contrive to make the ship itself an object of sympathy? By personifying it, as endowed with sense:
"Now launching headlong down the horrid vale,
She hears no more the roaring of the gale."
The cause of the want of interest in the scenes and classic places by which the ship is surrounded, arises only from double anxiety and sympathy with the mariners, and particularly those for whom we are so much interested.
Who at such a moment could bear to have his deep solicitude interrupted, by being called upon to contemplate even those shores, where
"Godlike SOCRATES and PLATO shone."- -SHIPWRECK.
As the scene rises in terror, how fine is the introduction of the ANGEL of the WIND.
“And lo! tremendous o'er the deep he springs,
Is not this infinitely more poetical than
"Taught aft the sheet, they tally and belay?"
In some cases, where nautical terms are used, the effect, I admit,
is very striking, in bringing
forlorn and agonised crew.
you, as it were, into the midst of this
Such is the animated passage,
"Square fore and aft the yards,' the Master calls:
For on your steerage all our lives depend :
So steady! meet her! watch the curving prow,
'Starboard again!' the watchful Pilot cries:
Who can read this without fancying himself amidst the crew, and almost hearing the conflict of the elements, the words given and repeated,
"Starboard again!' the watchful Pilot cries:
But an image from artificial life puts to flight almost all sympathy. "Fate SPURS her on!"
A few more critical observations occur on looking over what your Lordship has advanced.
Architecture.-You observe that it is the architecture of Westminster Abbey that makes it poetical: the tower for "making patent shot," accordingly, would be equally poetical if the architecture was the same. I affirm this is not so. Westminster Abbey is, and must be, poetical, from moral associations more than from its architecture. "The object" cannot be seen without these associations, connected with time, and the illustrious dead.
I say your answer is that of a painter, not a poet! The architecture would make "the tower for patent shot" equally picturesque, as an object, for painting sees nothing but the surface, but it would not make it as poetical, except in mere description; and I defy your Lordship, and all the poets who ever existed, to make "the patent shot tower" poetical, let the architecture be what it will, unless they keep all its uses and name out of sight. In using the word "objects," of course I imply " poetical" objects, which include not only the visible form, but the associations. Nay, Sir Christopher Wren's additions to Westminster Abbey are not so poetical as the Abbey itself, though their "architecture" were as appropriate as it is inharmonious. I cannot show the absurdity of a