Page images

introduction of spirits and divinities, but by a creative genius, an elevated imagination, and an eloquent and touching simplicity. It was vanity that led him to sully his pen with disgusting obscenity, and an ostentatious display of impiety, and to flatter himselftbat a happy mixture of satire and wit might atone for their turpitude, and place the name of a revolting blasphemer upon a level with that of Ariosto. It was vanity that tempted him to undermine the faith of his countrymen by ridiculing the established worship, and representing those by whom it was administered under the odious character of hypocrites. The hostility of Voltaire toward the Christian dispensation is rather that of a rival than of a philosopher. He wished to overturn it, not so much from his entertaining any solid objection to its beautiful theory, or doubting the miracles by which it is attested, as because he envied the

glory of its divine author, and even hoped to be able, if. Christianity was abolished, to introduce in its place a system of moral indulgence of which he might become the pontiff and patriarch.

But it would be useless to push the subject farther. The French Revolution has furnished the most satisfactory comment upon the GRAND EXPERIMENT of the philosophers; and we are firmly persuaded that no person in future, unless actually labouring under mental derangement, will attempt to govern mankind by simple reason, unassisted by the light of revelation. No; it is religion alone that has authority to silence the clamours of interest, to controul the sensual appetites, and to fetter the turbulence of ambition.

Art. XII. The Remorse. A Tragedy. By S. T. Coleridge.

Second Edition. 8vo. London. 1814.

[ocr errors]

THEN a system of opinions, either new, or apparently so, is

formally laid before the world, no judgment can be formed respecting its merits, till the whole has been attentively considered: but when philosophical opinions come to us cursorily scat tered through volumes of miscellaneous poetry, it can scarcely be expected that their merits will be so fairly tried. The premises being sometimes not at all, and, perhaps, never formally laid down, the conclusion appears to rest on little authority; in this page the reader is startled with one peculiar idea, in the next with another, and between both, perhaps, traces no connection. Thus he proceeds nearly through the book, still ignorant of its characteristic feature ; his vanity is mortified, and forget ting that his ignorance should in justice prevent his forming any judgment, he suffers it to be the very groundwork of his condem



hation. Or if towards the conclusion, be should have acquired a knowledge of the general theory, the previous disgust is in most instances so strong, that he feels no inclination with the new light he has acquired, to reperuse the volume.

That Mr. Coleridge and his poetical friends (or, to use a colloquial title, the Lake Poets) have suffered in the judgment of the world from this circumstance, we cannot but believe; and we lament that no one of them should have stated briefly and plainly to the public the nature of their poetical theory. We lament this the more, because, though it will be found, perhaps, erroneous in parts, on the whole we think it contains truth enough for all the purposes of poetry, and in its effects must be beneficial to all the noble and gentle affections of the heart. Without undertaking to supply the deficiency, we will yet venture a few remarks, which may help us in forming our judgment on the work before us.

Ío a profound admiration of Sbakspeare, Milton, and our earlier poets, the authors of the system, on which we are remarking, appear to have united much of metaphysical habit, and metaphy sical learning. This admiration was not of the kind which displays itself in the conventional language of criticism; it was real, practical and from the heart; it led to ceaseless study, to imitation of its objects. Analysing by metaphysical aids the principles on which these great men exercised such imperial sway over the human heart, they found that it was not so much by operating

the reason as on the imagination of the reader. We mean that it was not so much by arguinent, or description, which the reason acknowledged to be true, as by touching some chord of association in the mind, which woke the imagination and set it instantly on a creation of its own. An example or two will make this clear. In the parting speech of Polonius to Laertes we admire consummate prudence and beautiful expression, and there the labour and the enjoyment of the mind ceases; but when Gertrude says of the frantic Hamlet

Anon as patient as the female dove,
When that her golden couplets are disclosed,

His silence will set drooping.' Beautiful as the description is, the mind does not rest there, a thousand ideas of a gentle, placid, and affectionate nature rise within us in a train, which we seem ourselves to have created apenda

. Once more-in the following passage from Milton

of taste will admit that he is very differently affected by different parts of it, and that the difference solely results from the exercise of the imagination in somne lines, and its repose in others.



[ocr errors]

Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies, se i The tufted crow-toe and pale jessamine,

The white pink, and the pansy freck'd with jete
The glowing violet,
The musk rose, and the well-attir'd woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,

y fiorer that sad embroidery wears. It was evident in fact, that the latter process must be far more delightful to the mind than the former; as in the one case, how.. ever we may be instructed and improved, we are still conscious of our inferiority; we stand as pupils before our master, and advance not a single step beyond the limit, wbich he marks for us. But in the other, it is our master, indeed, who presents us with the key . of Paradise, but we ourselves open the gate, all our wanderings are unconstrained, and we find beauties, and trace likenesses with all the delight of original composition. It is true, that a closer analysis would shew that in this apparent freedom we are in fact following a prescribed direction :--but the restraint which is neither seen, nor felt, is in fact no restraint.

In so far then as metaphysical inquiry led them to this conclusion, it did them good service; and no one who has read

: Mr. Alison's beautiful Essays on Taste, will doubt for an instant that they had arrived at the true theory of poetic delight. Beyond this point metaphysics (prompting, indeed, at times peculiar beauties) were on the whole dangerous companions; and from the habits of making every mental emotion the subject of analysis have resulted, we think, most of the defects which continue to impede their progress to popular favour.

It is observed of Marivaux, by one of his countrymen, that, II ne donne pas le résultat de son observation, mais l'acte même de l'observation. The remark will apply to our Poets; minute in

' their analyses and analysing the minutest emotions; preferring, indeed, from the greater skill required in the task, to trace to their causes the slight and transient, rather than the strong and permanent feelings of the mind, they have too often become not so much the painters of nature as the commentators upon her. By this method they have sacrificed the chance of years

Sen bed pularity for the devoted admiration of a few; and it ihat the alternative was entirely at their option. But still we think the choice a faulty one; the majority of mankind are little con'versant in metaphysical pursuits; whereas it should be at least a principal object of poetry to please generally, and it is one of the highest boasts of genius that its strains, like the liturgy of our church, are not too high for the low and simple, nor yet too low for the wise and learned.

[ocr errors]


But this is not all; for it may be reasonably doubted, whether, from the continual habit of studying these slighter emotions, certajn results, having a tendency to erroneous conclusions in pbilosophy, do not of necessity follow. For first it seems likely that the heart itself would become more susceptible of emotion from slight causes than those of the generality of men; as it is certain

. ibat the mind of the artist, or the connoisseur, will receive the most exquisite delight from parts of a production, which leave the common observer in a state of indifference. Now though it may be desirable that a picture should contain some of these latent beauties, yet it is evident that the artist who built his fame entirely upon them, must resign his claims to genius for the reputation of mere science, and can never aspire to the praise of Being a perfect painter.

Again, such a study long continued can scarcely fail of attaching a greater degree of importance to the emotions so raised,

a than they merit. Whatever we dwell upon with intenseness and ardour invariably swells in our conception to a false magnitude; indeed this is implied by the very eagerness of our pursuit; and if this be true with the weed, the shell, or the butterfly, it is evident how much more strongly it will apply, where the study, (as must be the case with all studies conversant about the operations. of the soul) unites much of real dignity and importance as the basis on which to build the exaggerations of partial fondness. The native of a ffat country gradually swells bis mole-hills to mountains; no wonder then, if by constantly beholding, and deeply feeling the grandeur and beauty of their own lakes, Mr. Coleridge and his friends have learned to invest every part with a false appearance of greatness ; if, in their eyes, every stream swells to a river, every lake to an ocean, and every headland, that breaks or ornaments their prospect, assumes the awful form of a giant promontory. But what is still worse, the habitual examination of their own feelings tends to produce in them a variation from nature almost amounting to distortion. The slight and subtle workings of the heart must be left to play unobserved, and without fear of observation, if they are intended to play freely and naturally; to be overlooked is to be absolutely restrained. The man who is for ever examining his feet, as he walks, will probably soon move in a stiff and constrained


and if we are constantly on the watch to discover the nature, order, and cause of our slightest emotions, it can scarcely be expected that they will operate in their free course or natural direction.

Now if we are justified in any of these suppositions, we cannot wonder that to a large portion of mankind the views of nature exhibited by the Lake Poets, and their own feelings with the excite



ment of them, should often appear strained, and even fictitious. The majority of their readers have passed glow-worms and bird'snests, celandines and daisies, without any emotion lively enough to be remembered; and they are surprised, unfairly perhaps, but not unnaturally, that so much sensation should be attributed to so trifting a cause. They lose their fellowship of feeling with the poet, and are therefore at the best but uninterested by the

poem. Another source of peculiarities in the poets under consideration is the particular warmth and energy of their feeling in the contemplation of rural scenery. They are not the tasteful admirers of nature, nor the philosophic calculators on the extent of her riches, and the wisdom of ber plans; they are her humble worshippers. In her silent solitudes, on the bosom of her lakes, in the dim twilight of her forests, they are surrendered up passively to the scenery around them, they seem to feel a power, an influence invisible and indescribable, which at once burthens and delights, exalts and purifies the soul. All the features and appearances of nature in their poetical creed possess a sentient and intellectual being, and exert an influence for good upon the hearts of her worshippers. Nothing can be more poetical than this feeling, but it is the misfortune of this school that their very excellences are carried to an excess. Hence they constantly attribute not merely physical, but moral animation to nature. Ocean has an heart, and as might be expected in consequence, all the passions of love, pride, joy, &c.; the moon is at one time merciful, at another cruel, at one time loves, at another hates; and the waves, the stars, the clouds, the music of the sky are all friends to the mariner. These are to be carefully distinguished from the common-places' of poetry; to say that a river kisses its banks, or that the sea embraces an island are but metaphors borrowed from physical appearances, and bear a broad difference from passages in which an inanimate being performs an external action in obedience to some internal feeling.

To an extension or rather a modification of this last mentioned principle may perhaps be attributed the beautiful tenet so strongly inculcated by them of the celestial purity of infancy. Heaven lies about us in our infancy,' says Mr. Wordsworth, in à passage which strikingly exemplifies the power of imaginative poetry; and Mr. Wilson, on seeing an infant asleep, exclaims :

Thou smil'st as if thy thoughts were soaring
To heaven, and heaven's God adoring.

Anu w 10 can tell what visions high
C G May bless an infant's sleeping eye!!!

The tenet itself is strictly imaginative; its truth, as matter of philosophy, may well be doubted; certainly in the extent in which



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »