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me I cannot find out the lie, with all my expe- Porson. What tautology, what trifling! rience in those matters.
Southey (reads.) “ Now tell me had you rather be ?
“ Upon the house-top, glittering bright,
A broad and gilded vane."
Porson. Can we wonder that the boy saw “I'd” sounds much the same when it signifies
plain” a broad and gilded vane," on the “I would.” The latter with slighter contraction
house-top just before him? is “ l'ou'd ;" hence the corruption goes farther.
“ Thus did the boy his tongue unlock," Southey. This is just and true; but we must not rest too often, too long, or too pressingly, on
Porson. I wish the father had kept the Bramah verbal criticism.
key in his breeches pocket. Porson. Do you, so accurate a grammarian,
“ And eased his mind with this reply," say this ? To pass over such vulgarisms; which indeed the worst writers seldom fall into; if the
Porson. When he had written “ did unlock," words are silly, idle, or inapplicable, what becomes he should likewise have written “and ease,” not of the sentence? Those alone are to be classed
“ and eased." as verbal critics who can catch and comprehend
" At Kilve there was no weathercock, no more than a word here and there, and who lay
And that's the reason why. more stress upon it, if faulty, than upon all the
O dearest, dearest boy! my heart beauties in the best authors. But unless we, who
For better lore would seldom yearn, sit perched and watchful on a higher branch than
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn." the word-catchers,* and who live on somewhat more substantial than syllables, do catch the
Porson. What is flat ought to be plain ; but word, that which is dependent on the word must who can expound to me the thing here signified ? escape us also. Now do me the favour to read Who can tell me where is the lie, and which is the rest ; for I have only just breath enough to the liar? If the lad told a lie, why praise him converse, and your voice will give advantages to so? And if he spoke the obvious truth, what has the poetry which mine can not.
he taught the father? “ The hundredth part" of Southey (reads.)
the lore communicated by the child to the parent * In careless mood he look'd at me,
may content him : but whoever is contented with While still I held him by the arm,
a hundredfold more than all they both together And said, “At Kilve I'd rather be
have given us, cannot be very ambitious of beThan here at Liswyn-farm.' Now, little Edward, say why so,
coming a senior wrangler. These, in good truth, My little Edward tell me why."
“Pleni ruris et inficetiarum." Porson. Where is the difference of meaning
“ Dank, limber verses, stuft with lakeside sedges, betwixt “Little Edward, say why so,"
And propt with rotten stakes from broken hedges." and
In the beginning of these I forbore to remark “Little Edward, lell me why?"
“ On Kilve by the green sea." Southey (reads.)
When I was in Somersetshire, Neptune had not “ I cannot tell, I do not know."
parted with his cream-coloured horses, and there Porson. Again, where is the difference between was no green sea within the horizon. The an“I cannot tell,” and “I do not know?"
cients used to give the sea the colour they saw in it; Southey (reads.)
Homer dark-blue, as in the Hellespont, the lonian, “Why, this is strange, said I."
and Ægæan; 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 chatends it for poetry.
racter, he never went a league off land. He kept Southey (reads.)
usually, both in person and poetry, to the vada “ For here are woods, hills smooth and warm ;
cærula. There surely must some reason be."
Southey. But he hoisted purple sails, and the Porson. This is among the least awkward of mother of his Æneas was at the helm. his inversions, which are more frequent in him,
Porson. How different from Mr. Wordsworth's and more awkward, than in any of his contempo- wash-tub, pushed on the sluggish lake by a dumb raries. Somewhat less so would be
idiot! We must leave the sea-shore for the ditch“ Surely some reason there must be," or
side, and get down to “the small Celandine." “ Some reason surely there must be," or
I will now relieve you : give me the book. “ Some reason there must surely be."
“ Pleasures newly found are sweet" Without ringing more changes, which we might What a discovery! I never heard of any pleasures do, he had the choice of four inversions, and he that are not. has taken the worst.
“When they lie about our feet." Southey (reads.)
Does that make them the sweeter?
“February last." * Like word-catchers that live on syllables. Pope,
How poetical !
“ February last, my heart
Southey. I would defend the whole poem.
Porson. To defend the whole, in criticism as in
warfare, you must look with peculiar care to the Celandine ! and long ago,
weakest part. In our last conversation, you exPraise of which I nothing know."
pressed a wish that I should examine the verses 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.
you would have caught me by the wrist and have “ I have not a doubt but he
intercepted the stroke. Show me, if you can, a Whosoe'er the man might be,
single instance of falsity or unfairness in any of Who the first with pointed rays
these remarks. If you can not, pray indulge me (Workman worthy to be sainted) Set the signboard in a blaze," &c.
at least in as much hilarity as my position, beReally is there any girl of fourteen whose poetry, tween a sick bed and a sorry book, will allow me. being like this, the fondest mother would lay
Southey. I must catch the wrist here. The before her most intimate friends? If a taste for book, as you yourself conceded, comprehends many what the French call niaiserie were prevalent, he
beautiful things. who should turn his ridicule so effectively against I will maintain it: but there are more mawkish.
Porson. I have said it; I have repeated it; and it as to put it entirely out of fashion, would per: This very room has many things of value in it: form a far greater service than that glorious wit Cervantes, who shattered the last helmet of yet the empty phials are worth nothing, and seveknight-errantry. For in knight-errantry there
ral of the others are uninviting. Beside yourself, was the stout, there was the strenuous, there was versed and sufficiently candid to give a correct
I know scarcely a critic in England sufficiently sound homeliness under courtly guise, and the ornamental was no impediment to the manly. But
decision on our poets. All others have their in niaiserie there are ordinarily the debilitating parties ; most have their personal friends. On fumes of self-conceit, and nothing is there about it the side opposite to these, you find no few morose but what is abject and ignoble. Shall we go on?
and darkling, who conjure up the phantom of an Southey. As you heard me patiently when we
enemyin every rising reputation. You are too wise met before, it is fair and reasonable that I should and too virtuous to resemble them. On this cool attend to you, now you have exar ned more care
green bank of literature you stand alone. I always fully what I recommended to your perusal. But have observed that the herbage is softest and I do not understand your merriment.
finest in elevated places; and that we may repose Porson. My merriment is excited now, and was The little folks who congregate beneath you,
with most safety and pleasantness on lofty minds. excited on a former occasion, by the fervour of your expression, that “ Pindar would not have seem to think of themselves as Pope thought of
the women : braced a poem to more vigour, nor Euripides have
“ The critic who deliberates is lost." breathed into it more tenderness and passion.” Southey. I spoke of the Laodamia.
Southey. Hence random assertions, heats, Porson. Although I gave way to pleasantry animosities, missiles of small wit, clouds hiding instead of arguing the point with you, I had a every object under them, forked lightnings of illgreat deal more to say, Mr. Southey, than I said directed censure, and thunders of applause lost in at the first starting of so heavy a runner in his the vacuity of space. I do not find that our race with Pindar. We will again walk over a part critics are fond of suggesting any emendations of of the ground.
the passages they censure in their contemporaries, * With sacrifice before the rising morn
as you have done in the ancients. Will not you Performed, my slaughtered lord have I required,'
tell for the benefit of the author, if there is And in thick darkness, amid shades forlorn,
anything in the Lyrical Ballads which you could Him of the infernal gods have I desired.'”
materially improve ? I only remember, at the time, that the second Porson. Tell me first if you can turn a straw and fourth verses terminate too much alike. “De into a walking-stick. When you have done this, sired” may just as well be where “required” is, and I will try what I can do. But I never can do that "required” where "desired” is: both are wretchedly for Mr. Wordsworth which I have sometimes done weak, and both are preceded by the same words, for his betters. His verses are as he wrote them; “have I."
and we must leave them as they are : theirs are Southey. He has corrected them at your sug- not so; and faults committed by transcribers or gestion ; not indeed much (if anything) for the printers may be corrected. In Macbeth, for better; and he has altered the conclusion, making example, we read, it more accordant with morality and Christianity,
“ The raven himself is hoarse, but somewhat less perhaps with Greek manners
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan," &c. and sentiments, as they existed in the time of the Is there anything marvellous in a raven being Trojan war.
hoarse? which is implied by the word "himself:” Porson. Truly it was far enough from these that is to say, even the raven, &c. Shakspeare wrote before. Acknowledge that the fourth line is quite one letter more; “ The raven himself is hoarser." unnecessary, and that the word “performed,” in Southey. Surely you could easily correct in the the second, is prosaic.
Lyrical Ballads faults as obvious.
Porson. If they were as well worth my attention. , them your objections, and they will swear and
Southey. Many are deeply interested by the claw at you to show how spiteful you are. Others simple tales they convey in such plain easy say they wonder that judicious men differ from language.
them. No doubt they differ; and there is but one Porson. His language is often harsh and disso- reason for it, which is, because they are so. Again, nant, and his gait is like one whose waistband has there are the gentle and conciliatory, who say been cut behind. There may be something “inter- merely that they can not quite think with you. esting" in the countenance of the sickly, and even Have they thought at all? Granting both preof the dead, but it is only life that can give us mises, have they thought, or can they think enjoyment. Many beside lexicographers place in rightly? the same line simplicity and silliness : they can Southey. To suppose the majority can, is to not separate them as we can. They think us suppose an absurdity; and especially on subjects monsters, because we do not see what they see, which require so much preparatory study, such a and because we see plainly what they never can variety of instruction, such deliberation, delicacy, see at all. There is often most love where there and refinement. When I have been told, as I is the least acquaintance with the object loved. often have been, that I shall find very few of my So it is with these good people who stare at the opinion, certainly no compliment was intended odd construction of our minds. Homely and poor me; yet there are few, comparatively, whom nature thoughts may be set off by facility and graceful- has gifted with intuition or exquisite taste; few ness of language ; here they often want both. whose ideas have been drawn, modelled, marked,
Southey. Harmonious words render ordinary chiselled, and polished, in a studio well lighted ideas acceptable ; less ordinary, pleasant; novel from above. The opinion of a thousand millions and ingenious ones, delightful. As pictures and who are ignorant or ill-informed, is not equal to statues, and living beauty too, show better by the opinion of only one who is wiser. This is too music-light, so is poetry irradiated, vivified, glori- self-evident for argument; yet we hear about the fied, and raised into immortal life, by harmony. common sense of mankind! A common sense
Porson. Ay, Mr. Southey, and another thing which, unless the people receive it from their may be noticed. The Muses should be as slow to betters, leads them only into common error. If loosen the zone as the Graces * are. The poetical such is the case, and we have the testimony of all form, like the human, to be beautiful, must be ages for it, in matters which have most attracted succinct. When we grow corpulent, we are com- their attention, matters in which their nearest monly said to lose our figure. By this loss of interests are mainly concerned, in politics, in relifigure we are reduced and weakened. So, there gion, in the education of their families, how greatly, not being bone nor muscle nor blood enough in how surpassingly, must it be in those which require your client, to rectify and support his accretions, a peculiar structure of understanding, a peculiar he collapses into unswathable fabbiness. We must endowment of mind, a peculiar susceptibility, and never disturb him in this condition, which appears almost an undivided application. In what regards to be thought, in certain parts of the country, as poetry, I should just as soon expect a sound much a peculiar mark of Heaven's favour, as idiocy judgment of its essentials from a boatman or a is among the Turks. I have usually found his waggoner, as from the usual set of persons we sticklers, like those good folks, dogmatical and meet in society ; persons not uneducated, but dull. One of them lately tried to persuade me that deriving their intelligence from little gutters and he never is so highly poetical as when he is deeply drains round about. The mud is easily raised to metaphysical. When I stared, he smiled benignly, the surface in so shallow a receptacle, and nothing and said, with a deep sigh that relieved us both, is seen distinctly or clearly. Whereas the humbler “Ah! you may be a Grecian!” He then quoted man has received no false impressions, and may fourteen German poets of the first order, and therefore to a limited extent be right. As for expressed his compassion for Æschylus and Homer. books in general, it is only with men like you that
Southey. What a blessing are metaphysics to I ever open my lips upon them in conversation. our generation! A poet or other who can make In my capacity of reviewer, dispassionate by temnothing clear, can stir up enough sediment to perament, equitable by principle, and, moreover, render the bottom of a basin as invisible as the for fear of offending God and of suffering in my deepest gulf in the Atlantic. The shallowest conscience, I dare not leave behind me in my pond, if turbid, has depth enough for a goose to writings either a false estimate or a frivolous hide its head in.
objection. Porson. I quoted to my instructor in criticism Porson. Racy wine comes from the high vinethe Anecdote for Fathers: he assured me it is as yard. There is a spice of the scoundrel in most clear as day; not meaning a London day in par- of our literary men; an itch to filch and detract ticular, such as this. But there are sundry gen- in the midst of fair-speaking and festivity. This tlemen who, like cats, see clearly in the dark, and is the reason why I never have much associated far from clearly anywhere else. Hold them where, with them. There is also another: we have if they were tractable and docile, you might show nothing in common but the alphabet. The most
popular of our critics have no heart for poetry; * Zonamque segnes solvere Gratiæ.
it is morbidly sensitive on one side, and utterly callous on the other. They dandle some little poet, Southey. Certainly not : but that is no reason and will never let you take him off their knees; why he should be turned into ridicule on all occahim they feed to bursting with their curds and sions. Must he be rejected and reviled as a poet, whey. Another they warn off the premises, and because he wishes to be also a philosopher? Or will give him neither a crust nor a crumb, until must he be taunted and twitted for weakness, they hear he has succeeded to a large estate in because by his nature he is quiescent? popularity, with plenty of dependants; then they Porson. No indeed ; though much of this sue and supplicate to be admitted among the quiescency induces debility, and is always a sign number; and, lastly, when they hear of his death, of it in poetry. Let poets enjoy their sleep; but they put on mourning, and advertise to raise a let them not impart it, nor take it amiss if they monument or a club-room to his memory. You, are shaken by the shoulder for the attempt. I Mr. Southey, will always be considered the sound-reprehended at our last meeting, as severely as est and the fairest of our English critics; and you yourself did, those mischievous children who indeed, to the present time, you have been the played their pranks with him in his easy-chair ; only one of very delicate perception in poetry. and I drove away from him those old women who But your admirable good-nature has thrown a brought him their drastics from the Edinburgh costly veil over many defects and some deform- Dispensary. Poor souls ! they are all swept off! ities. To guide our aspirants, you have given us Sydney Smith, the wittiest man alive, could not (and here accept my thanks for them) several good keep them up, by administering a nettle and a inscriptions, much nearer the style of antiquity shove to this unsaved remnant of the Baxter than any others in our language, and better, Christians. indeed much better, than the Italian ones of Southey. The heaviest of them will kick at you Chiabrera. I myself have nothing original about the most viciously. Castigation is not undue to me; but here is an inscription which perhaps you him ; for he has snipt off as much as he could will remember in Theocritus,* and translated to pinch from every author of reputation in his time. the best of my ability.
It is less ungenerous to expose such people than INSCRIPTION ON A STATUE OF LOVE.
to defend them. a Mild he may be, and innocent to view,
Porson. Let him gird up his loins, however, Yet who on earth can answer for him ? You
and be gone; we will turn where correction ought Who touch the little god, mind what ye do!
to be milder, and may be more efficient. Give a * Say not that none has caution'd you : although trifle of strength and austerity to the squashiness Short be his arrow, slender be his bow,
of our friend's poetry, and reduce in almost every The king Apollo's never wrought such woe."
piece its quantity to half. Evaporation will render This and one petty skolion, are the only things I it likelier to keep. Without this process, you have attempted. The skolion is written by Geron. will shortly have it only in the form of extracts. “He who in waning age would moralize,
You talk of philosophy in poetry; and in poetry With leaden finger weighs down joyous eyes ; let it exist ; but let its veins run through a poem, Youths too, with all they say, can only tell
as our veins run through the body, and never to What maids know well :
be too apparent; for the prominence of veins, in “ And yet if they are kind, they hear it out As patiently as if they cleard a doubt.
both alike, is a symptom of weakness, feverish. I will not talk like either. Come with me;
ness, and senility. On the ground where we are Look at the tree !
now standing, you have taken one end of the « Look at the tree while still some leaves are green ; blanket, and I the other ; but it is I chiefly who
Soon must they fall. Ah! in the space between have shaken the dust out. Nobody can pass us Lift those long eyelashes above your book,
without seeing it rise against the sunlight, and For the last look!"
observing what a heavy cloud there is of it. Southey. I cannot recollect them in the Greek. While it lay quietly in the fannel, it lay without
Porson. Indeed ! Perhaps I dreamt it then ; suspicion. for Greek often plays me tricks in my dreams. Southey. Let us return, if you please, to one
Southey. I wish it would play them oftener with among the partakers of your praise, whose philoour poets. It seems to entertain a peculiar sophy is neither obtrusive nor abstruse. I am grudge against the most celebrated of them.
highly gratified by your commendation of Cowper, Porson. Our conversation has been enlivened than whom there never was a more virtuous or and enriched by what seemed sufficiently sterile more amiable man. In some passages, he stands in its own nature ; but, by tossing it about, we quit unrivalled by any recent poet of this century; have made it useful. Just as certain lands are none, indeed, modern or ancient, has touched the said to profit by scrapings from the turnpike heart more delicately, purely, and effectively, than road. After this sieving, after this pounding and he has done in Crazy Kate, in Lines on his trituration of the coarser particles, do you really Mother's Picture, in Omai, and on hearing Bells find in Mr. Wordsworth such a vigour and variety, at a Distance. such a selection of thoughts and images, as Porson. Thank you for the mention of bells. authorise you to rank him with Scott and Burns Mr. Wordsworth, I remember, speaks, in an authoand Cowper ?
ritative and scornful tone of censure, on Cowper's * Where?
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," any more than 1; 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
“To the weak head great heights are hazardous." passing-bell for those passing to heaven; the In the same funny style he writes curfew-bell for the burgesses and villagers to “O that some courteous ghost would blab it out, cover their fires. He would not allow me to be
What 'tis they are." called well-spoken, nor you to be called well-read; Courtesy and blabbing, in this upper world of and yet, by this expression, I should mean to ours, are thought to be irreconcilable; but blabbing signify that you have read much, and I should may not be indecorous nor derogatory to the employ another in signifying that you have been character of courtesy in a ghost. However, the much read. Incomparably better is Cowper's expression is an uncouth one; and when we find Winter than Virgil's, which is indeed a disgrace it so employed, we suspect the ghost cannot have to the Georgics ; or than Thomson's, which in been keeping good company, but, as the king said places is grand. But would you on the whole to the miller of Mansfield, that his “ courtesy is compare Cowper with Dryden?
but small.” Cowper plays in the play-ground, Southey. Dryden possesses a much richer store and not in the churchyard. Nothing of his is of thoughts, expatiates upon more topics, has out of place or out of season. He possessed a more vigour, vivacity, and animation. He is rich vein of ridicule, but he turned it to good always shrewd and penetrating, explicit and per. account, opening it on prig parsons, and graver spicuous, concise, where conciseness is desirable, and worse impostors. He was among the first and copious where copiousness can yield delight. who put to flight the mischievous little imps of When he aims at what is highest in poetry, the allegory, so cherished and fondled by the Wartons. dramatic, he falls below his Fables. However, I They are as bad in poetry as mice in a cheesewould not compare the poetical power of Cowper room. You poets are still rather too fond of the with his; nor would I, as some have done, pit unsubstantial. Some will have nothing else than Young against him. Young is too often fastasti- what they call pure imagination. Now air-plants cal and frivolous; he pins butterflies to the pulpit- ought not to fill the whole conservatory; other cushion; he suspends against the grating of the plants, I would modestly suggest, are worth culticharnel-house coloured lamps and comic transpa- vating, which send their roots pretty deep into rencies, Cupid, and the cat and the fiddle; he the ground. I hate both poetry and wine without opens a store-house filled with minute particles of body. Look at Shakspeare, Bacon, and Milton; heterogeneous wisdom, and unpalatable gobbets of were these your pure-imagination-men? The least ill-concocted learning, contributions from the of them, whichever it was, carried a jewel of classics, from the schoolmen, from homilies, and poetry about him, worth all his tribe that came from farces. What you expect to be an elegy after. Did the two of them who wrote in verse turns out an epigram ; and when you think he is build upon nothing? Did their predecessors? bursting into tears, he laughs in your face. Do And, pray, whose daughter was the Muse they you go with him into his closet, prepared for an invoked? Why, Memory's. They stood among admonition or a rebuke, he shakes his head, and substantial men, and sang upon recorded actions. you sneeze at the powder and perfumery of his The plain of Scamander, the promontory of peruke. Wonder not if I prefer to his pungent Sigæum, the palaces of Tros and Dardanus, the essences the incense which Cowper burns before citadel in which the Fates sang mournfully under the altar.
the image of Minerva, seem fitter places for the Porson. Young was, in every sense of the word, Muses to alight on, than artificial rockwork or an ambitious man. He had strength, but wasted than faery-rings. But your great favourite, I it. Blair's Grave has more spirit in it than the hear, is Spenser, who shines in allegory, and who, same portion of the Night Thoughts; but never like an aerolithe, is dull and heavy when he was poetry so ill put together ; never was there so descends to the ground. good a poem, of the same extent, from which so Southey. He continues a great favourite with great a quantity of what is mere trash might be me still, although he must always lose a little as rejected. The worse blemish in it is the ridicule our youth declines. Spenser's is a spacious but and scoffs, cast not only on the violent and grasp- somewhat low chamber, hung with rich tapestry, ing, but equally on the gentle, the beautiful, the on which the figures are mostly disproportioned, studious, the eloquent, and the manly. It is but some of the faces are lively and beautiful ; the ugly enough to be carried quietly to the grave; it furniture is part creaking and worm-eaten, part is uglier to be hissed and hooted into it. Even fragrant with cedar and sandal-wood and aromatic the quiet astronomer,
gums and balsams; every table and mantelpiece
and cabinet is covered with gorgeous vases, and “ With study pale, and midnight vigils spent,"
birds, and dragons, and houses in the air. is not permitted to depart in peace, but (of all Porson. There is scarcely a poet of the same