Having cooled a little from this "fine passion," our youthful poet passes very naturally into a long strain of foaming abuse against a certain class of English Poets, whom, with Pope at their head, it is much the fashion with the ignorant unsettled pretenders of the present time to undervalue. Begging these gentlemen's pardon, although Pope was not a poet of the same high order with some who are now living, yet, to deny his genius, it is just about as absurd as to dispute that of Wordsworth, or to believe in that of Hunt. Above all things, it is most pitiably ridiculous to hear men, of whom their country will always have reason to be proud, reviled by uneducated and flimsy striplings, who are not capable of understanding either their merits, or those of any other men of power—fanciful dreaming tea-drinkers, who, without logic enough to analyse a single idea, or imagination enough to form one original image, or learning enough to distinguish between the written language of Englishmen and the spoken jargon of Cockneys, presume to talk with contempt of some of the most exquisite spirits the world ever produced, merely because they did not happen to exert their faculties in laborious affected descriptions of flowers seen in window-pots, or cascades heard at Vauxhall; in short, because they chose to be wits, philosophers, patriots, and poets, rather than to found the Cockney school of versification, morality, and politics, a century before its time. After blaspheming himself into a fury against Boileau, &c., Mr. Keats comforts himself and his readers with a view of the present more promising aspect of affairs; above all, with the ripened glories of the poet of Rimini. Addressing the names of the departed chiefs of English poetry, he informs them, in the following clear and touching manner, of the existence of "him of the Rose," &c.
From a thick brake, Nested and quiet in a valley mild, Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild About the earth. Happy are ye and glad....
From some verses addressed to various individuals of the other sex, it appears, notwithstanding all this gossamer-work, that Johnny's affectations are not entirely confined to objects purely etherial. Take, by way of specimen, the following prurient and vulgar lines, evidently meant for some young lady east of Temple-bar.
Add too, the sweetness Of thy honied voice; the neatness Of thine ankle lightly turn'd: With those beauties, scarce discerned, Kept with such sweet privacy, That they seldom meet the eye Of the little loves that fly Round about with eager pry. Saving when, with freshening lave, Thou dipp'st them in the taintless wave; Like twin water lilies, born In the coolness of the morn. O, if thou hadst breathed then, Now the Muses had been ten. Couldst thou wish for lineage higher Than twin sister of Thalia? At last for ever, evermore, Will I call the Graces four.
Who will dispute that our poet, to use his own phrase (and rhyme),
Can mingle music fit for the soft ear Of Lady Cytherea.
So much for the opening bud; now for the expanded flower. It is time to pass from the juvenile "Poems," to the mature and elaborate "Endymion, a Poetic Romance." The old story of the moon falling in love with a shepherd, so prettily told by a Roman Classic, and so exquisitely enlarged and adorned by one of the most elegant of German poets, has been seized upon by Mr. John Keats, to be done with as might seem good unto the sickly fancy of one who never read a single line either of Ovid or of Wieland. If the quantity, not the quality, of the verses dedicated to the story is to be taken into account, there can be no doubt that Mr. Keats may now claim Endymion entirely to himself. To say the truth, we do not suppose either the Latin or the German poet would be very anxious to dispute about the property of the hero of the "Poetic Romance." Mr. Keats has thoroughly appropriated the character, if not the name. His Endymion is not a Greek shepherd, love of a Grecian goddess; he is merely a young Cockney rhymster, dreaming a phantastic dream at the full of the moon. Costume, were it worth while to notice such a trifle, is violated in every page of this goodly octavo. From his prototype Hunt, John Keats has acquired a sort of vague idea, that the Greeks were a most tasteful people, and that no mythology can be so finely adapted for the purposes of poetry as theirs. It is amusing to see what a hand the two Cockneys make of this mythology; the one confesses that he never read the Greek Tragedians, and the other knows Homer only from Chapman, and both of them write about Apollo, Pan, Nymphs, Muses, and Mysteries, as might be expected from persons of their education. We shall not, however, enlarge at present upon this subject, as we mean to dedicate an entire paper to the classical attainments and attempts of the Cockney poets. As for Mr. Keats's "Endymion," it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with "old Tartary the fierce"; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or feeling of classical poetry or classical history, could have stooped to profane and vulgarise every association in the manner which has been adopted by this "son of promise." Before giving any extracts, we must inform our readers, that this romance is meant to be written in English heroic rhyme. To those who have read any of Hunt's poems, this hint might indeed be needless. Mr. Keats has adopted the loose, nerveless versification, and Cockney rhymes of the poet of Rimini; but in fairness to that gentleman, we must add, that the defects of the system are tenfold more conspicuous in his disciples' work than in his own. Mr. Hunt is a small poet, but he is a clever man. Mr. Keats is a still smaller poet, and he is only a boy of pretty abilities, which he has done every thing in his power to spoil....
After all this, however, the "modesty," as Mr. Keats expresses it, of the Lady Diana prevented her from owning in Olympus her passion for Endymion. Venus, as the most knowing in such matters, is the first to discover the change that has taken place in the temperament of the goddess. "An idle tale," says the laughter-loving dame,
A humid eye, and steps luxurious, When these are new and strange, are ominous.
The inamorata, to vary the intrigue, carries on a romantic intercourse with Endymion, under the disguise of an Indian damsel. At last, however, her scruples, for some reason or other, are all overcome, and the Queen of Heaven owns her attachment.
She gave her fair hands to him, and behold, Before three swiftest kisses he had told, They vanish far away!—Peona went Home through the gloomy wood in wonderment.
And so, like many other romances, terminates the "Poetic Romance" of Johnny Keats, in a patched-up wedding.
We had almost forgotten to mention, that Keats belongs to the Cockney School of Politics, as well as the Cockney School of Poetry.
It is fit that he who holds Rimini to be the first poem, should believe the Examiner to be the first politician of the day. We admire consistency, even in folly. Hear how their bantling has already learned to lisp sedition.
There are who lord it o'er their fellow-men With most prevailing tinsel: who unpen Their baaing vanities, to browse away The comfortable green and juicy hay From human pastures; or, O torturing fact! Who, through an idiot blink, will see unpack'd Fire-branded foxes to sear up and singe Our gold and ripe-ear'd hopes. With not one tinge Of sanctuary splendour, not a sight Able to face an owl's, they still are dight By the blue-eyed nations in empurpled vests, And crowns, and turbans. With unladen breasts, Save of blown self-applause, they proudly mount To their spirit's perch, their being's high account, Their tiptop nothings, their dull skies, their thrones— Amid the fierce intoxicating tones. Of trumpets, shoutings, and belaboured drums, And sudden cannon. Ah! how all this hums, In wakeful ears, like uproar past and gone— Like thunder clouds that spake to Babylon, And set those old Chaldeans to their tasks.— Are then regalities all gilded masks?
And now, good-morrow to "the Muses' son of Promise"; as for "the feats he yet may do," as we do not pretend to say, like himself, "Muse of my native land am I inspired," we shall adhere to the safe old rule of pauca verba. We venture to make one small prophecy, that his bookseller will not a second time venture L50 upon any thing he can write. It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starving apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr. John, back to plasters, pills, and ointment boxes, &c. But, for Heaven's sake, young Sangrado, be a little more sparing of extenuatives and soporifics in your practice than you have been in your poetry.
[From Blackwood's Magazine, September, 1820]
Whatever may be the difference of men's opinions concerning the measure of Mr. Shelley's poetical power, there is one point in regard to which all must be agreed, and that is his Audacity. In the old days of the exulting genius of Greece, Aeschylus dared two things which astonished all men, and which still astonish them—to exalt contemporary men into the personages of majestic tragedies—and to call down and embody into tragedy, without degradation, the elemental spirits of nature and the deeper essences of Divinity. We scarcely know whether to consider the Persians or the Prometheus Bound as the most extraordinary display of what has always been esteemed the most audacious spirit that ever expressed its workings in poetry. But what shall we say of the young English poet who has now attempted, not only a flight as high as the highest of Aeschylus, but the very flight of that father of tragedy—who has dared once more to dramatise Prometheus—and, most wonderful of all, to dramatise the deliverance of Prometheus—which is known to have formed the subject of a lost tragedy of Aeschylus no ways inferior in mystic elevation to that of the [Greek: Desmotaes].
Although a fragment of that perished master-piece be still extant in the Latin version of Attius—it is quite impossible to conjecture what were the personages introduced in the tragedy of Aeschylus, or by what train of passions and events he was able to sustain himself on the height of that awful scene with which his surviving Prometheus terminates. It is impossible, however, after reading what is left of that famous trilogy, to suspect that the Greek poet symbolized any thing whatever by the person of Prometheus, except the native strength of human intellect itself—its strength of endurance above all others—its sublime power of patience. STRENGTH and FORCE are the two agents who appear on this darkened theatre to bind the too benevolent Titan—Wit and Treachery, under the forms of Mercury and Oceanus, endeavour to prevail upon him to make himself free by giving up his dreadful secret;— but Strength and Force, and Wit and Treason, are all alike powerless to overcome the resolution of that suffering divinity, or to win from him any acknowledgment of the new tyrant of the skies. Such was this simple and sublime allegory in the hands of Aeschylus. As to what had been the original purpose of the framers of the allegory, that is a very different question, and would carry us back into the most hidden places of the history of mythology. No one, however, who compares the mythological systems of different races and countries, can fail to observe the frequent occurrence of certain great leading Ideas and leading Symbolisations of ideas too—which Christians are taught to contemplate with a knowledge that is the knowledge of reverence. Such, among others, are unquestionably the ideas of an Incarnate Divinity suffering on account of mankind—conferring benefits on mankind at the expense of his own suffering;—the general idea of vicarious atonement itself—and the idea of the dignity of suffering as an exertion of intellectual might—all of which may be found, more or less obscurely shadowed forth, in the original [Greek: Mythos] of Prometheus the Titan, the enemy of the successful rebel and usurper Jove. We might have also mentioned the idea of a deliverer, waited for patiently through ages of darkness, and at least arriving in the person of the child of Io— but, in truth, there is no pleasure, and would be little propriety, in seeking to explain all this at greater length, considering, what we cannot consider without deepest pain, the very different views which have been taken of the original allegory by Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelley.
 There was another and an earlier play of Aeschylus, Prometheus the Fire-Stealer, which is commonly supposed to have made part of the series; but the best critics, we think, are of opinion, that that was entirely a satirical piece.
It would be highly absurd to deny, that this gentleman has manifested very extraordinary powers of language and imagination in his treatment of the allegory, however grossly and miserably he may have tried to pervert its purpose and meaning. But of this more anon. In the meantime, what can be more deserving of reprobation than the course which he is allowing his intellect to take, and that too at the very time when he ought to be laying the foundations of a lasting and honourable name. There is no occasion for going round about the bush to hint what the poet himself has so unblushingly and sinfully blazoned forth in every part of his production. With him, it is quite evident that the Jupiter whose downfall has been predicted by Prometheus, means nothing more than Religion in general, that is, every human system of religious belief; and that, with the fall of this, he considers it perfectly necessary (as indeed we also believe, though with far different feelings) that every system of human government also should give way and perish. The patience of the contemplative spirit in Prometheus is to be followed by the daring of the active demagorgon, at whose touch all "old thrones" are at once and for ever to be cast down into the dust. It appears too plainly, from the luscious pictures with which his play terminates, that Mr. Shelley looks forward to an unusual relaxation of all moral rules—or rather, indeed, to the extinction of all moral feelings, except that of a certain mysterious indefinable kindliness, as the natural and necessary result of the overthrow of all civil government and religious belief. It appears, still more wonderfully, that he contemplates this state of things as the ideal SUMMUM BONUM. In short, it is quite impossible that there should exist a more pestiferous mixture of blasphemy, sedition, and sensuality, than is visible in the whole structure and strain of this poem—which, nevertheless, and notwithstanding all the detestation its principles excite, must and will be considered by all that read it attentively, as abounding in poetical beauties of the highest order—as presenting many specimens not easily to be surpassed, of the moral sublime of eloquence—as overflowing with pathos, and most magnificent in description. Where can be found a spectacle more worthy of sorrow than such a man performing and glorying in the performance of such things? His evil ambition,—from all he has yet written, but most of all, from what he has last and best written, his Prometheus,—appears to be no other, than that of attaining the highest place among those poets,—enemies, not friends, of their species, who, as a great and virtuous poet has well said (putting evil consequence close after evil cause).
Profane the God-given strength, and mar the lofty line.
We should hold ourselves very ill employed, however, were we to enter at any length into the reprehensible parts of this remarkable production. It is sufficient to shew, that we have not been misrepresenting the purpose of the poet's mind, when we mention, that the whole tragedy ends with a mysterious sort of dance, and chorus of elemental spirits, and other indefinable beings, and that the SPIRIT OF THE HOUR, one of the most singular of these choral personages, tells us:
I wandering went Among the haunts and dwellings of mankind, And first was disappointed not to see Such mighty change as I had felt within Expressed in other things; but soon I looked, And behold! THRONES WERE KINGLESS, and men walked One with the other, even as spirits do, etc.
* * * * *
We cannot conclude without saying a word or two in regard to an accusation which we have lately seen brought against ourselves in some one of the London Magazines; we forget which at this moment. We are pretty sure we know who the author of that most false accusation is—of which more hereafter. He has the audacious insolence to say, that we praise Mr. Shelley, although we dislike his principles, just because we know that he is not in a situation of life to be in any danger of suffering pecuniary inconvenience from being run down by critics, and, vice versa, abuse Hunt, Keats, and Hazlitt, and so forth, because we know that they are poor men; a fouler imputation could not be thrown on any writer than this creature has dared to throw on us; nor a more utterly false one; we repeat the word again—than this is when thrown upon us.
We have no personal acquaintance with any of these men, and no personal feelings in regard to any one of them, good or bad. We never even saw any one of their faces. As for Mr. Keats, we are informed that he is in a very bad state of health, and that his friends attribute a great deal of it to the pain he has suffered from the critical castigation his Endymion drew down on him in this magazine. If it be so, we are most heartily sorry for it, and have no hesitation in saying, that had we suspected that young author, of being so delicately nerved, we should have administered our reproof in a much more lenient shape and style. The truth is, we from the beginning saw marks of feeling and power in Mr. Keats's verses, which made us think it very likely, he might become a real poet of England, provided he could be persuaded to give up all the tricks of Cockneyism, and forswear for ever the thin potations of Mr. Leigh Hunt. We, therefore, rated him as roundly as we decently could do, for the flagrant affectations of those early productions of his. In the last volume he has published, we find more beauties than in the former, both of language and of thought, but we are sorry to say, we find abundance of the same absurd affectations also, and superficial conceits, which first displeased us in his writings;—and which we are again very sorry to say, must in our opinion, if persisted in, utterly and entirely prevent Mr. Keats from ever taking his place among the pure and classical poets of his mother tongue. It is quite ridiculous to see how the vanity of these Cockneys makes them overrate their own importance, even in the eyes of us, that have always expressed such plain unvarnished contempt for them, and who do feel for them all, a contempt too calm and profound, to admit of any admixture of any thing like anger or personal spleen. We should just as soon think of being wroth with vermin, independently of their coming into our apartment, as we should of having any feelings at all about any of these people, other than what are excited by seeing them in the shape of authors. Many of them, considered in any other character than that of authors are, we have no doubt, entitled to be considered as very worthy people in their own way. Mr. Hunt is said to be a very amiable man in his own sphere, and we believe him to be so willingly. Mr. Keats we have often heard spoken of in terms of great kindness, and we have no doubt his manners and feelings are calculated to make his friends love him. But what has all this to do with our opinion of their poetry? What, in the name of wonder, does it concern us, whether these men sit among themselves, with mild or with sulky faces, eating their mutton steaks, and drinking their porter at Highgate, Hampstead, or Lisson Green? What is there that should prevent us, or any other person, that happens not to have been educated in the University of Little Britain, from expressing a simple, undisguised, and impartial opinion, concerning the merits or demerits of men that we never saw, nor thought of for one moment, otherwise than as in their capacity of authors? What should hinder us from saying, since we think so, that Mr. Leigh Hunt is a clever wrong-headed man, whose vanities have got inwoven so deeply into him, that he has no chance of ever writing one line of classical English, or thinking one genuine English thought, either about poetry or politics? What is the spell that must seal our lips, from uttering an opinion equally plain and perspicuous concerning Mr. John Keats, viz., that nature possibly meant him to be a much better poet than Mr. Leigh Hunt ever could have been, but that, if he persists in imitating the faults of that writer, he must be contented to share his fate, and be like him forgotten? Last of all, what should forbid us to announce our opinion, that Mr. Shelley, as a man of genius, is not merely superior, either to Mr. Hunt, or to Mr. Keats, but altogether out of their sphere, and totally incapable of ever being brought into the most distant comparison with either of them. It is very possible, that Mr. Shelley himself might not be inclined to place himself so high above these men as we do, but that is his affair, not ours. We are afraid that he shares, (at least with one of them) in an abominable system of belief, concerning Man and the World, the sympathy arising out of which common belief, may probably sway more than it ought to do on both sides. But the truth of the matter is this, and it is impossible to conceal it were we willing to do so, that Mr. Shelley is destined to leave a great name behind him, and that we, as lovers of true genius, are most anxious that this name should ultimately be pure as well as great.
As for the principles and purposes of Mr. Shelley's poetry, since we must again recur to that dark part of the subject; we think they are on the whole, more undisguisedly pernicious in this volume, than even in his Revolt of Islam. There is an Ode to Liberty at the end of the volume, which contains passages of the most splendid beauty, but which, in point of meaning, is just as wicked as any thing that ever reached the world under the name of Mr. Hunt himself. It is not difficult to fill up the blank which has been left by the prudent bookseller, in one of the stanzas beginning:
O that the free would stamp the impious name, Of ——- into the dust! Or write it there So that this blot upon the page of fame, Were as a serpent's path, which the light air Erases, etc., etc.
but the next speaks still more plainly:
O that the WISE from their bright minds would kindle Such lamps within the dome of this wide world, That the pale name of PRIEST might shrink and dwindle Into the HELL from which it first was hurled!
This is exactly a versification of the foulest sentence that ever issued from the lips of Voltaire. Let us hope that Percy Bysshe Shelley is not destined to leave behind him, like that great genius, a name for ever detestable to the truly FREE and the truly WISE. He talks in his preface about MILTON, as a "Republican," and a "bold inquirer into Morals and religion." Could any thing make us despise Mr. Shelley's understanding, it would be such an instance of voluntary blindness as this! Let us hope, that ere long a lamp of genuine truth may be kindled within his "bright mind"; and that he may walk in its light the path of the true demigods of English genius, having, like them, learned to "fear God and Honour the king."
THE WESTMINSTER REVIEW
Started in 1824 to represent Radical opinions, the Westminster was associated, in its palmy days, with such "persons of importance" as George Eliot, George Henry Lewes, and J.S. Mill, retaining to the present moment an isolated preference for the expression of unconventional, and often outre opinions. It has always been somewhat fanatical and, now that really distinguished writers seldom enter its pages, has become associated, in the general view, with the promotion of fads.
JOHN STUART MILL
Though Mill's principle work was of a highly expert and technical nature, he had the rare power of conveying accurate expressions of sound thoughts in popular language; and he was conspicuous for the moral fervour of his opinions in practical politics. His fascinating autobiography is absolutely sincere, and very copious, in its revelations. It has been said, moreover, that he was "more at pains to conceal his originality" than "most writers are to set forth" this quality: and it was this characteristic which inspired his broad-minded conduct of the London Review, soon incorporated with the Westminster, which, after ten years as a contributor, he edited from 1834, and owned from 1837 until 1840. Here he made "a noble experiment to endeavour to combine opposites, and to maintain a perpetual attitude of sympathy with hostile opinions." It was officially, the organ of Utilitarianism; but articles were frequently inserted requiring the editorial caveat. It was the friend of liberty in every shape and form.
In a philosophic writer whose style was admittedly always literary, it is of special interest to notice that he so frequently chose a volume of poetry to review himself: and no better example of this work can be found than the following critique of Tennyson, which, again, may be most profitably compared with Gladstone's. It proves that he loved poetry for its own sake.
The notice of Macaulay's Lays further illustrates his interesting theories of poetry.
It is the remarkable fate of Sterling, leaving behind him no work of permanent distinction—to have been the subject of two biographies by persons of far greater importance than his—Archdeacon Hare and Thomas Carlyle. The editorial foot-note affixed to the following review, in which Mill describes him as "one of our most valued contributors" provides further evidence of what his contemporaries expected of "Poor Sterling." "A loose, careless looking, thin figure," says Carlyle, "in careless dim costume, sat, in a lounging posture, carelessly and copiously talking. I was struck with the kindly but restless swift-glancing eyes, which looked as if the spirits were all out coursing like a pack of merry eager beagles, beating every bush.... A smile, half of kindly impatience, half of real mirth, often sat on his face."
Sterling wrote poetry, essays, and stories, largely inspired by capricious enthusiasms. The son of an editor of The Times, he was, for a short time owner of The Athenaeum, and also a curate under Hare.
Since Carlyle's "extraordinary elegy, apology, eulogium" is itself a classic, particular interest attaches itself to Sterling's generous estimate of the man destined to make him immortal.
J.S. MILL ON TENNYSON
[From The Westminster Review, January, 1831]
Poems, chiefly Lyrical. By ALFRED TENNYSON. Wilson, 12 mo. 1830.
It would be a pity that poetry should be an exception to the great law of progression that obtains in human affairs; and it is not. The machinery of a poem is not less susceptible of improvement than the machinery of a cotton mill; nor is there any better reason why the one should retrograde from the days of Milton, than the other from those of Arkwright....
The old epics will probably never be surpassed, any more than the old coats of mail; and for the same reason; nobody wants the article; its object is accomplished by other means; they are become mere curiosities....
Poetry, like charity, begins at home. Poetry, like morality, is founded in the precept, know thyself. Poetry, like happiness, is in the human heart. Its inspiration is of that which is in man, and it will never fail because there are changes in costume and grouping. What is the vitality of the Iliad? Character; nothing else. All the rest is only read out of antiquarianism or of affectation. Why is Shakespeare the greatest of poets? Because he was one of the greatest of philosophers. We reason on the conduct of his characters with as little hesitation as if they were real living human beings. Extent of observation, accuracy of thought, and depth of reflection, were the qualities which won the prize of sovereignty for his imagination, and the effect of these qualities was practically to anticipate, so far as was needful for his purposes, the mental philosophy of a future age. Metaphysics must be the stem of poetry for the plant to thrive; but if the stem flourishes we are not likely to be at a loss for leaves, flowers, and fruit. Now, whatever theories may have come into fashion and gone out of fashion, the real science of mind advances with the progress of society like all other sciences. The poetry of the last forty years already shows symptoms of life in exact proportion as it is imbued with this science. There is least of it in the exotic legends of Southey, and the feudal romances of Scott. More of it, though in different ways, in Byron and Campbell. In Shelley there would have been more still, had he not devoted himself to unsound and mystical theories. Most of all in Coleridge and Wordsworth. They are all going or gone; but here is a little book as thoroughly and unitedly metaphysical and poetical in its spirit as any of them; and sorely shall we be disappointed in its author if it be not the precursor of a series of productions which shall beautifully illustrate our speculations, and convincingly prove their soundness.
Do not let our readers be alarmed. These poems are anything but heavy; anything but stiff and pedantic, except in one particular, which shall be noticed before we conclude; anything but cold and logical. They are graceful, very graceful; they are animated, touching, and impassioned. And they are so, precisely because they are philosophical; because they are not made up of metrical cant and conventional phraseology; because there is sincerity where the author writes from experience, and accuracy whether he writes from experience or observation; and he only writes from experience and observation, because he has felt and thought, and learned to analyse thought and feeling; because his own mind is rich in poetical associations, and he has wisely been content with its riches; and because, in his composition, he has not sought to construct an elaborate and artificial harmony, but only to pour forth his thoughts in those expressive and simple melodies whose meaning, truth, and power, are the soonest recognised, and the quickest felt....
Mr. Tennyson seems to obtain entrance into a mind as he would make his way into a landscape; he climbs the pineal gland as if it were a hill in the centre of the scene; looks around on all objects with their varieties of form, their movements, their shades of colour, and their mutual relations and influences, and forthwith produces as graphic a delineation in the one case as Wilson or Gainsborough could have done in the other, to the great enrichment of our gallery of intellectual scenery....
Our author has the secret of the transmigration of the soul. He can cast his own spirit into any living thing, real or imaginary....
"Mariana" is, we are disposed to think, although there are several poems which rise up reproachfully in our recollection as we say so, altogether, the most perfect composition in the volume. The whole of this poem, of eighty-four lines, is generated by the legitimate process of poetical creation, as that process is conducted in a philosophical mind, from a half sentence in Shakespeare. There is no mere samplification; it is all production, and production from that single germ. That must be a rich intellect, in which thoughts thus take root and grow....
A considerable number of the poems are amatory; they are the expression not of heathen sensuality, nor of sickly refinement, nor of fantastic devotion, but of manly love; and they illustrate the philosophy of the passion while they exhibit the various phases of its existence and embody its power....
Mr. Tennyson sketches females as well as ever did Sir Thomas Lawrence. His portraits are delicate, his likenesses (we will answer for them), perfect, and they have life, character, and individuality. They are nicely assorted also to all the different gradations of emotion and passion which are expressed in common with the descriptions of them. There is an appropriate object for every shade of feeling, from the light touch of a passing admiration, to the triumphant madness of soul and sense, or the deep and everlasting anguish of survivorship....
That these poems will have a rapid and extensive popularity we do not anticipate. Their very originality will prevent their being appreciated for a time. But that time will come, we hope, to a not far distant end. They demonstrate the possession of powers, to the future direction of which we look with some anxiety. A genuine poet has deep responsibilities to his country and the world, to the present and future generations, to earth and heaven. He, of all men, should have distinct and worthy objects before him, and consecrate himself to their promotion. It is then he best consults the glory of his art, and his own lasting fame. Mr. Tennyson has a dangerous quality in that facility of impersonation on which we have remarked, and by which he enters so thoroughly into the most strange and wayward idiosyncracies of other men. It must not degrade him into a poetical harlequin. He has higher work to do than that of disporting himself among "mystics" and "flowing philosophers." He knows that "the poet's mind is holy ground"; He knows that the poet's portion is to be
Dower'd with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, The love of love;
he has shown, in the lines from which we quote, his own just conception of the grandeur of the poet's destiny; and we look to him for its fulfilment. It is not for such men to sink into mere verse-makers for the amusement of themselves or others. They can influence the associations of unnumbered minds; they can command the sympathies of unnumbered hearts; they can disseminate principles; they can give those principles power over men's imaginations; they can excite in a good cause the sustained enthusiasm that is sure to conquer; they can blast the laurels of tyrants, and hallow the memories of the martyrs' patriotism; they can act with a force, the extent of which it is difficult to estimate, upon national feelings and character, and consequently upon national happiness.
MILL ON MACAULAY'S "LAYS"
[From The Westminster Review. February, 1843]
It is with the two great masters of modern ballad poetry (Campbell and Scott) that Mr. Macaulay's performances are really to be compared, and not with the real ballads or epics of an early age. The "Lays," in point of form, are not in the least like the genuine productions of a primitive age or people, and it is no blame to Mr. Macaulay that they are not. He professes imitation of Homer, but we really see no resemblance, except in the nature of some of the incidents, and the animation and vigour of the narrative; and the "Iliad," after all, is not the original ballads of the Trojan War, but these ballads moulded together, and wrought into the forms of a more civilised and cultivated age. It is difficult to conjecture what the form of the old Roman ballad may have been, and certain, that whatever they were, they could no more satisfy the aesthetic requirements of modern culture, than an ear accustomed to the great organs of Freyburg or Harlem could relish Orpheus's hurdy-gurdy, although the airs which Orpheus played, if they could be recovered, might perhaps be executed with great effect on the more perfect instrument.
The former of Mr. Macaulay's ballad poetry are essentially modern: they are those of the romantic and chivalrous, not the classical ages, and even in those they are a reproduction, not of the originals, but of the imitations of Scott. In this we think he has done well, for Scott's style is as near to that of the ancient ballad as we conceive to be at all compatible with real popular effect on the modern mind. The difference between the two may be seen by the most cursory comparison of any real old ballad, "Chevy Chase," for instance, with last canto of Marmion, or with any of these "Lays." Conciseness is the characteristic of the real ballad, diffuseness of the modern adaptation. The old bard did everything by single touches; Scott and Mr. Macaulay by repetition and accumulation of particulars. They produce all their effect by what they say; he by what he suggested; by what he stimulated the imagination to paint for itself. But then the old ballads were not written for the light reading of tired readers. To do the work in their way, they required to be brooded over, or had at least the aid of tune and of impassioned recitation. Stories which are to be told to children in the age of eagerness and excitability, or sung in banquet halls to assembled warriors, whose daily ideas and feelings supply a flood of comment ready to gush forth on the slightest hint of the poet, cannot fly too swift and straight to the mark. But Mr. Macaulay wrote to be only read, and by readers for whom it was necessary to do all.
These poems, therefore, are not the worse for being un-Roman in their form; and in their substance they are Roman to a degree which deserves great admiration. Mr. Macaulay's prose writings had not prepared us for the power which he has here manifested of identifying himself easily and completely, with states of feeling and modes of life alien to modern experience. Nobody could have previously doubted that he possessed fancy, but he has added to it the higher faculty of Imagination. We have not been able to detect, in the four poems, one idea or feeling which was not, or might not have been Roman; while the externals of Roman life, and the feelings characteristic of Rome and of that particular age, are reproduced with great felicity, and without being made unduly predominant over the universal features of human nature and human life.
Independently therefore of their value as poems, these compositions are a real service rendered to historical literature; and the author has made this service greater by his prefaces, which will do more than the work of a hundred dissertations in rendering that true conception of early Roman history, the irrefragable establishment of which has made Niebuhr illustrious, familiar to the minds of general readers. This is no trifling matter, even in relation to present interests, for there is no estimating the injury which the cause of popular institutions has suffered, and still suffers from misrepresentations of the early condition of the Roman and Plebs, and its noble struggles against its taskmasters. And the study of the manner in which the heroic legends of early Rome grew up as poetry and gradually became history, has important bearings on the general laws of historical evidence, and on the many things which, as philosophy advances, are more and more seen to be therewith connected. On this subject Mr. Macaulay has not only presented, in an agreeable form, the results of previous speculation, but has, though in an entirely unpretending manner, thrown additional light upon it by his own remarks: as where he shows, by incontestible instances, that a similar transformation of poetic fiction into history has taken place on various occasions in modern and sceptical times....
We are more disposed to break a lance with our author on the general merits of Roman literature, which, by a heresy not new with him, he sacrifices, in what appears to us a most unfair degree, on the score of its inferior originality to the Grecian. It is true the Romans had no Aeschylus nor Sophocles, and but a secondhand Homer, though this last was not only the most finished but even the most original of imitators. But where was the Greek model of the noble poem of Lucretius? What, except the mere idea, did the Georgics borrow from Hesiod? and whoever thinks of comparing the two poems? Where, in Homer or the Euripides, will be found the original of the tender and pathetic passages in the Aeneid, especially the exquisitely told story of Dido? There is no extraordinary merit in the "Carmen Secculare" as we have it, the only production of Horace which challenges comparison with Pindar; although we are not among those who deem Pindar one of the brightest stars in the Greek heaven. But from whom are the greater part of Horace's Carmina borrowed (they should never be termed Odes), any more than those of Burns or Beranger, the analogous authors in modern times? and by what Greek minor poems are they surpassed? We say nothing of Catullus, whom some competent judges prefer to Horace. Does the lyric, then, or even the epic poetry of the Romans, deserve no better title than that of "a hot-house plant, which, in return for assiduous and skilful culture, yielded only scanty and sickly fruits?" The complete originality and eminent merit of their satiric poetry, Mr. Macaulay himself acknowledges. As for prose, we give up Cicero as compared with Demosthenes, but with no one else; and is Livy less original, or less admirable, than Herodotus? Tacitus may have imitated, even to affectation, the condensation of Thucydides, as Milton imitated the Greek and Hebrew poets; but was the mind of the one as essentially original as that of the other? Is the Roman less an unapprochable master, in his peculiar line, that of sentimental history, than the Grecian in his? and what Greek historian has written anything similar or comparable to the sublime peroration of the Life of Agricola? The Latin genius lay not in speculation, and the Romans did undoubtedly borrow all their philosophical principles from the Greeks. Their originality there, as is well said by a remarkable writer in the most remarkable of his works, consisted in taking these principles au serieux. They did what the others talked about. Zeno, indeed, was not a Roman; but Poetus Thrasea and Marcus Antoninus were.
 Mr. Maurice, in the essay on the history of moral speculation and culture, which forms the article "Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy" in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana.
JOHN STERLING ON CARLYLE
[From London and Westminster Review October, 1839]
All countries at all times require, and England perhaps at the present not less than others, men having a faith at once distinct and large, the expression of what is best in their times, and having also the courage to proclaim it, and take their stand upon it....
But in our day such visionaries are less and less possible. The spread of shallow but clear knowledge, like the cold snow-water issuing from the glaciers, daily chills and disenchants the hearts of millions once credulous. Daily, therefore, does it become more probable that millions will follow in the track of those who are called their betters. Thus will they find in the world nothing but an epicurean stye, to be managed, with less dirt and better food, by patent steam-machinery; but still a place for swine, though the swine may be washed, and their victuals more equally divided.
Is it not then strange that in such a world, in such a country, and among those light-hearted Edinburgh Reviewers, a man should rise and proclaim a creed; not a new and more ingenious form of words, but a truth to be embraced with the whole heart, and in which the heart shall find as he has found, strength for all combats, and consolation, though stern not festal, under all sorrows? Amid the masses of English printing sent forth every day, part designed for the most trivial entertainment, part black with the narrowest and most lifeless sectarian dogmatism, part, and perhaps the best, exhibiting only facts and theories in physical science, and part filled with the vulgarest economical projects and details, which would turn all life into a process of cookery, culinary, political, or sentimental—how few writings are there that contain like these a distinct doctrine as to the position and calling of man, capable of affording nourishment to the heart, and support to the will, and in harmony at the same time with the social state of the world, and with the most enlarged and brightened insight which human wisdom has yet attained to?
We have been so little prepared to look for such an appearance that it is difficult for us to realize the conception of a genuine coherent view of life thus presented to us in a book of our day, which shall be neither a slight compendium of a few moral truisms, flavoured with a few immoral refinements and paradoxes, such as constitute the floating ethics and religion of the time; nor a fierce and gloomy distortion of some eternal idea torn from its pure sphere of celestial light to be raved about by the ignorant whom it has half-enlightened, and half made frantic. But here, in our judgment—that is, in the judgment of one man who speaks considerately what he fixedly believes—we have the thought of a wide, and above all, of a deep soul, which has expressed in fitting words, the fruits of patient reflection, of piercing observation, of knowledge many-sided and conscientious, of devoutest awe and faithfullest love....
The clearness of the eye to see whatever is permanent and substantial, and the fervour and strength of heart to love it as the sole good of life, are, in our view, Mr. Carlyle's pre-eminent characteristics, as those of every man entitled to the fame of the most generous order of greatness. Not to paint the good which he sees and loves, or see it painted, and enjoy the sight; not to understand it, and exult in the knowledge of it; but to take his position upon it, and for it alone to breathe, to move, to fight, to mourn, and die—this is the destination which he has chosen for himself. His avowal of it and exhortation to do the like is the object of all his writings. And, reasonably considered, it is no small service to which he is thus bound. For the real, the germinal truth of nature, is not a dead series of physical phenomena into the like of which all phenomena are cunningly to be explained away. This pulseless, rigid iron frame-work, on which the soft soil of human life is placed, and above which its aerial flowers and foliage rise, does not pass with him for the essential and innermost principle of all. It is rather that which, being itself poorest, the poorest of faculties can apprehend. As physical mechanism, it is that which is most palpable, and undeniable by any, because it is that which lies nearest the nothingness whence it has been hardly rescued, and is therefore, most akin to minds in whose meanness of structure or culture, even human existence might seem scarce better than nothingness. He knows, few in our nation so well, that of a world of new machinery, the highest king and priest would be the neatest clockwork figure. And in such a world, a being feeling ever towards or somewhat beyond what he can weigh and measure, and looking up to find above himself that which is too high for him to understand, would be an anomaly as lawless and incredible as the wildest fabled monster, the Minotaur or the Chimera, the Titan—the Sphynx itself—nay a more delirious riddle than any that in dreams it proposes to us.
On the other hand, neither is for him the solid, abiding, inexhaustible, that merely which is received as such by the popular acquiescence. It must needs be a truth which the spirit, cleared and strengthened by manifold knowledge and experience, and above all by steadfast endeavour, can rest in and say: This I mean; not because it is told me, were my informants all the schools of Rabbins or a hierarchy of angels; but because I have looked into it, tried it, found it healthful and sufficient, and thus know that it will stand the stress of life. We may be right or wrong in our estimate of Mr. Carlyle, but we cannot be mistaken in supposing that on this kind of anvil have all truly great men been fashioned, and of metal thus honest and enduring.
Further it must be said that, true as is his devotion to the truth, so flaming and cordial is his hatred of the false, in whatever shapes and names delusions may show themselves. Affectations, quackeries, tricks, frauds, swindlings, commercial or literary, baseless speculations, loud ear-catching rhetoric, melodramatic sentiment, moral drawlings and hyperboles, religious cant, clever political shifts, and conscious or half-conscious fallacies, all in his view, come under the same hangman's rubric,—proceed from the same offal heart. However plausible, popular, and successful, however dignified by golden and purple names, they are lies against ourselves, against whatever in us is not altogether reprobate and infernal. His great argument, theme of his song, spirit of his language, lies in this, that there is a work for man worth doing, which is to be done with the whole of his heart, not the half or any other fraction. Therefore, if any reserve be made, any corner kept for something unconnected with this true work and sincere purpose, the whole is thereby vitiated and accurst. So far as his arm reaches he is undoing whatever in nature is holy: ruining whatever is the real creation of the great worker of all. This truth of purpose is to the soul what life is to the body of man; that which unites and organises the mass, keeping all the parts in due proportion and concord, and restraining them from sudden corruption into worthless dust....
Anyone who should take up the writings themselves with no other preconception than that which we have attempted to give him, would doubtless be startled at the strangeness of the style which prevails more or less throughout them. They are not careless, headstrong, passionate, confused; but they bear a constant look of oddity which seems at first mere wilful wantonness, and which we only afterwards find to be the discriminating stamp of original and strong feeling. This— this feeling, rooted in profound susceptibility and matured into a central vivifying power—is, we should say, the author's most extraordinary distinction. For it is not the ostentatious, impetuous sentiment, which calls, a sufficient audience being by, on heaven and earth for sympathy, and would wish for that of Tartarus too, as an additional acknowledgment of its sublime sincerity. Here, on the contrary, the feeling is not that which the man is proud of, and would fain exhibit. He shrinks from the profession, nay from the sense of it; even painfully labours to trifle, and be at ease, that he may hide from others, and may for himself forget, the thorny fagot load of his own emotions. Yet make them known he must; for they are not those of some private personal grief or passion, from which he may escape into literature or science, and leave his pains and longings behind him; but his sensibilities are burning with a slow, immense fire, kindled by the very theme on which he writes, and compelling him to write. The greatness and weakness, the infinite hopes and unquenchable reality of human life; the aching pressure of the body and its wants on the myriads of millions in whom celestial force sleeps and dreams of hell; the sight of follies, frauds, cruelties, and lascivious luxury in the midst of a race then endowed and thus suffering; and the unconquerable will and thought with which the few work out the highest calling of all men; these it is, and not self-indulging distresses and theatrical aspirations of his own, which boil and storm within. Therefore does he speak with the solid strength and energy, which gives so serious and rugged an aspect to his sentences; while, perpetually checking himself, from a wise man's shame at excessive emotion, and from the knowledge that others will but half sympathise with him, he adds to his most weighty utterances a turn of irony which relieves the excessive strain.... Add to this, that Mr. Carlyle's resolution to convey his meaning at all hazards, makes him seize the most effectual and sudden words in spite of usage and fashionable taste; and that, therefore, when he can get a brighter tint, a more expressive form, by means of some strange—we must call it—Carlylism; English, Scotch, German, Greek, Latin, French, Technical, Slang, American, or Lunar, or altogether superlunar, transcendental, and drawn from the eternal nowhere—he uses it with a courage which might blast an academy of lexicographers into a Hades, void even of vocables....
Here must end our remarks on the admirable writings of a great man. Could it be hoped, that by what has been said, any readers, and especially any thinkers, will be led to give them the attention they require, but also deserve, in this there would be ample repayment, even were there not at all events a higher reward, for the labour, which is not a slight one, of forming and assorting distinct opinions on a matter so singular and so complex. For few bonds that unite human beings are purer or happier than a common understanding and reverence of what is truly wise and beautiful. This also is religion. Standing at the threshold of these works, we may imitate the saying of the old philosopher to the friends who visited him on their return from the temples—Let us enter, for here too are gods.
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
There can be no occasion to enlarge upon this generous tribute of one of the greatest of our Victorian novelists to another. Considering how inevitably the critic is driven to compare these two, if not to set one up against the other, we can experience no feeling but pleasure and pride in humanity, before the evidence of their mutual appreciation. The Cornhill "In Memoriam" article of Charles Dickens may well stand beside this burst of glowing enthusiasm.
We have retained, by way of illustrating our general subject, a paragraph from the earlier part of the article, in which Thackeray falls foul of reviewers in general, for characteristics from which he himself was singularly free.
The brilliant versatility of Kingsley's work will prepare us, in some measure, for his virile impatience, here revealed, with elements in the romantic revival of poetry among his contemporaries, which were an offence to his "muscular" morality. "There are certain qualities which may be called moral in all his work, evincing a literary faculty of the highest kind. Always instructive without being exactly instructed, always argumentative without being very guarded in argument, he yet displays a marvellously contagious enthusiasm for his own creeds, and surrounds his own ideals with an atmosphere of passionate nobility. We forgive the partisanship for the sincerity of the partisan."
* * * * *
Alexander Smith (1830-1867) was a poet and essayist of some distinction; though A. H. Clough also criticises his exclusive devotion to the "writers of his own immediate time"; and calls him "the latest disciple of the school of Keats." The volume of essays entitled Dreamthorp "entitles him to a place among the best writers of English prose."
There is a similarity, and a difference, between this summary of Christmas literature and Thackeray's. The personal criticism lacks his special geniality, revealing rather a tone which would have perfectly suited Blackwood or the Quarterly. Lytton was a favourite subject of abuse to his contemporaries.
THACKERAY ON DICKENS
[From "A Box of Novels," Fraser's Magazine, February, 1844]
MR. TITMARSH, in Switzerland, to MR. YORKE
...This introduction, then, will have prepared you for an exceedingly humane and laudatory notice of the packet of works which you were good enough to send me, and which, though they doubtless contain a great deal that the critic would not write (from the extreme delicacy of his taste and the vast range of his learning) also contain, between ourselves, a great deal that the critic could not write if he would ever so; and this is a truth which critics are sometimes apt to forget in their judgments of works of fiction. As a rustical boy, hired at twopence a week, may fling stones at the blackbirds and drive them off and possibly hit one or two, yet if he get into the hedge and begin to sing, he will make a wretched business of the music, and Labin and Colin and the dullest swains of the village will laugh egregiously at his folly; so the critic employed to assault the poet.... But the rest of the simile is obvious, and will be apprehended at once by a person of your experience.
The fact is, that the blackbirds of letters—the harmless, kind singing creatures who line the hedge-sides and chirp and twitter as nature bade them (they can no more help singing, these poets, than a flower can help smelling sweet), have been treated much too ruthlessly by the watch-boys of the press, who have a love for flinging stones at the little innocents, and pretend that it is their duty, and that every wren or sparrow is likely to destroy a whole field of wheat, or to turn out a monstrous bird of prey. Leave we these vain sports and savage pastimes of youth, and turn we to the benevolent philosophy of maturer age.
* * * * *
And now there is but one book left in the box, the smallest one, but oh! how much the best of all. It is the work of the master of all the English humourists now alive; the young man who came and took his place calmly at the head of the whole tribe, and who has kept it. Think of all we owe Mr. Dickens since these half-dozen years, the store of happy hours that he has made us pass, the kindly and pleasant companions whom he has introduced to us, the harmless laughter, the generous wit, the frank, manly, human love which he has taught us to feel! Every month of these years has brought us some kind token from this delightful genius. His books may have lost in art, perhaps, but could we afford to wait? Since the days when the Spectator was produced by a man of kindred mind and temper, what books have appeared that have taken so affectionate a hold of the English public as these? They have made millions of rich and poor happy; they might have been locked up for nine years, doubtless, and pruned here and there, and improved (which I doubt) but where would have been the reader's benefit all this time, while the author was elaborating his performance? Would the communication between the writer and the public have been what it is now—something continual, confidential, something like personal affection? I do not know whether these stories are written for future ages; many sage critics doubt on this head. There are always such conjurors to tell literary fortunes; and, to my certain knowledge, Boz, according to them, has been sinking regularly these six years. I doubt about that mysterious writing for futurity which certain big wigs prescribe. Snarl has a chance, certainly. His works, which have not been read in this age, may be read in future; but the receipt for that sort of writing has never as yet been clearly ascertained. Shakespeare did not write for futurity, he wrote his plays for the same purpose which inspires the pen of Alfred Bunn, Esquire, viz., to fill his Theatre Royal. And yet we read Shakespeare now. Le Sage and Fielding wrote for their public; and through the great Dr. Johnson put his peevish protest against the fame of the latter, and voted him "a dull dog, sir,—a low fellow," yet somehow Harry Fielding has survived in spite of the critic, and Parson Adams is at this minute as real a character, as much loved by us as the old doctor himself. What a noble, divine power of genius this is, which, passing from the poet into his reader's soul, mingles with it, and there engenders, as it were, real creatures; which is as strong as history, which creates beings that take their place besides nature's own. All that we know of Don Quixote or Louis XIV we got to know in the same way—out of a book. I declare I love Sir Roger de Coverley quite as much as Izaak Walton, and have just as clear a consciousness of the looks, voice, habit, and manner of being of the one as of the other.
And so with regard to this question of futurity; if any benevolent being of the present age is imbued with a desire to know what his great-great-grandchild will think of this or that author—of Mr. Dickens especially, whose claims to fame have raised the question—the only way to settle it is by the ordinary historic method. Did not your great-great-grandfather love and delight in Don Quixote and Sancho Panza? Have they lost their vitality by their age? Don't they move laughter and awaken affection now as three hundred years ago? And so with Don Pickwick and Sancho Weller, if their gentle humours and kindly wit, and hearty benevolent natures, touch us and convince us, as it were, now, why should they not exist for our children as well as for us, and make the twenty-fifth century happy, as they have the nineteenth? Let Snarl console himself, then, as to the future.
As for the Christmas Carol, or any other book of a like nature which the public takes upon itself to criticise, the individual critic had quite best hold his peace. One remembers what Buonaparte replied to some Austrian critics, of much correctness and acumen, who doubted about acknowledging the French republic. I do not mean that the Christmas Carol is quite as brilliant or self-evident as the sun at noonday; but it is so spread over England by this time, that no sceptic, no Fraser's Magazine,—no, not even the godlike and ancient Quarterly itself (venerable, Saturnian, big-wigged dynasty!) could review it down. "Unhappy people! deluded race!" One hears the cauliflowered god exclaim, mournfully shaking the powder out of his ambrosial curls, "What strange new folly is this? What new deity do you worship? Know ye what ye do? Know ye that your new idol hath little Latin and less Greek? Know ye that he has never tasted the birch at Eton, nor trodden the flags of Carfax, nor paced the academic flats of Trumpington? Know ye that in mathematics, or logic, this wretched ignoramus is not fit to hold a candle to a wooden spoon? See ye not how, from describing law humours, he now, forsooth, will attempt the sublime? Discern ye not his faults of taste, his deplorable propensity to write blank verse? Come back to your ancient, venerable, and natural instructors. Leave this new, low and intoxicating draught at which ye rush, and let us lead you back to the old wells of classic lore. Come and repose with us there. We are your gods; we are the ancient oracles, and no mistake. Come listen to us once more, and we will sing to you the mystic numbers of as in presenti under the arches of the Pons asinorum." But the children of the present generation hear not; for they reply, "Rush to the Strand, and purchase five thousand more copies of the Christmas Carol."
In fact, one might as well detail the plot of the Merry Wives of Windsor or Robinson Crusoe, as recapitulate here the adventures of Scrooge the miser, and his Christmas conversion. I am not sure that the allegory is a very complete one, and protest, with the classics, against the use of blank verse in prose; but here all objections stop. Who can listen to objections regarding such a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness. The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, "God bless him!" A Scotch philosopher, who nationally does not keep Christmas, on reading the book, sent out for a turkey, and asked two friends to dine—this is a fact! Many men were known to sit down after perusing it, and write off letters to their friends, not about business, but out of their fulness of heart, and to wish old acquaintances a happy Christmas. Had the book appeared a fortnight earlier, all the prize cattle would have been gobbled up in pure love and friendship, Epping denuded of sausages, and not a turkey left in Norfolk. His royal highness's fat stock would have fetched unheard of prices, and Alderman Bannister would have been tired of slaying. But there is a Christmas for 1844 too; the book will be as early then as now, and so let speculators look out.
As for TINY TIM, there is a certain passage in the book regarding that young gentleman, about which a man should hardly venture to speak in print or in public, any more than he would of any other affections of his private heart. There is not a reader in England but that little creature will be a bond of union between the author and him; and he will say of Charles Dickens, as the woman just now, "GOD BLESS HIM!" What a feeling is this for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap.
M. A. T.
CHARLES KINGSLEY ON ALEXANDER SMITH AND ALEXANDER POPE
[From Fraser's Magazine, October, 1853]
Poems, by ALEXANDER SMITH. London, Bogue. 1853
On reading this little book, and considering all the exaggerated praise and exaggerated blame which have been lavished on it, we could not help falling into many thoughts about the history of English poetry for the last forty years, and about its future destiny. Great poets, even true poets, are becoming more and more rare among us. There are those even who say that we have none; an assertion which, as long as Mr. Tennyson lives, we shall take the liberty of denying. But, were he, which Heaven forbid, taken from us, whom have we to succeed him? And he, too, is rather a poet of the sunset than of the dawn—of the autumn than of the spring. His gorgeousness is that of the solemn and fading year; not of its youth, full of hope, freshness, gay and unconscious life. Like some stately hollyhock or dahlia of this month's gardens, he endures while all other flowers are dying; but all around is winter—a mild one, perhaps, wherein a few annuals or pretty field weeds still linger on; but, like all mild winters, especially prolific in fungi, which, too, are not without their gaudiness, even their beauty, although bred only from the decay of higher organisms, the plagiarists of the vegetable world....
"What matter, after all?" one says to oneself in despair, re-echoing Mr. Carlyle. "Man was not sent into this world to write poetry. What we want is truth—what we want is activity. Of the latter we have enough in all conscience just now. Let the former need be provided for by honest and righteous history, and as for poets, let the dead bury their dead." ... And yet, after all, man will write poetry, in spite of Mr. Carlyle: nay, beings who are not men, but mere forked radishes, will write it. Man is a poetry-writing animal. Perhaps he was meant to be one. At all events, he can no more be kept from it than from eating. It is better, with Mr. Carlyle's leave, to believe that the existence of poetry indicates some universal human hunger, whether after "the beautiful," or after "fame," or after the means of paying butchers' bills, and accepting it as a necessary evil which must be committed, to see that it be committed as well, or at least a little ill, as possible. In excuse of which we may quote Mr. Carlyle against himself, reminding him of a saying in Goethe once bepraised by him in print,—"we must take care of the beautiful for the useful will take care of itself."
And never, certainly, since Pope wrote his Dunciad, did the beautiful require more taking care of, or evince less capacity for taking care of itself, and never, we must add, was less capacity for taking care of it evinced by its accredited guardians of the press than at this present time, if the reception given to Mr. Smith's poem is to be taken as a fair expression of "the public taste."
Now, let it be fairly understood, Mr. Alexander Smith is not the object of our reproaches: but Mr. Smith's models and flatterers. Against him we have nothing whatever to say; for him, very much indeed....
What if he has often copied.... He does not more than all schools have done, copy their own masters.... We by no means agree in the modern outcry for "originality." ...
As for manner, he does sometimes, in imitating his models, out-Herod Herod. But why not? If Herod be a worthy king, let him be by all means out-Heroded, if any man can do it. One cannot have too much of a good thing. If it be right to bedizen verses with metaphors and similes which have no reference, either in tone or in subject, to the matter in hand, let there be as many of them as possible. If a saddle is a proper place for jewels, then let the seat be paved with diamonds and emeralds, and Runjeet Singh's harness maker be considered as a lofty artist, for whose barbaric splendour Mr. Peat and his Melton customers are to forswear pigskin and severe simplicity—not to say utility, and comfort. If poetic diction be different in species from plain English, then let us have it as poetical as possible, as unlike English: as ungrammatical, abrupt, insolved, transposed, as the clumsiness, carelessness, or caprice of man can make it. If it be correct to express human thought by writing whole pages of vague and bald abstract metaphyric, and then trying to explain them by concrete concetti; which bear an entirely accidental and mystical likeness to the notion which they are to illustrate, then let the metaphysic be as abstract as possible, the concetti as fanciful and far-fetched as possible. If Marino and Cowley be greater poets than Ariosto and Milton, let young poets imitate the former with might and main, and avoid spoiling their style by any perusal of the too-intelligible common sense of the latter. If Byron's moral (which used to be thought execrable) be really his great excellence, his style (which used to be thought almost perfect) unworthy of this age of progress, then let us have his moral without his style, his matter without his form; or—that we may be sure of never falling for a moment into his besetting sin of terseness, grace, and completeness—without any form at all. If poetry, in order to be worthy of the nineteenth century, ought to be as unlike as possible to Homer or Sophocles, Virgil or Horace, Shakespeare or Spenser, Dante or Tasso, let those too idolised names be rased henceforth from the calendar; let the Ars Poetica, be consigned to flames by Mr. Calcraft, and Bartinus Scriblerus's Art of Sinking placed forthwith on the list of the Committee of the Council for Education, that not a working man in England may be ignorant that, whatsoever superstitions about art may have haunted the benighted heathens who built the Parthenon, nous avons changes tout cela. In one word, if it be best and most fitting to write poetry in the style in which almost everyone has been trying to write it since Pope and plain sense went out, and Shelley and the seventh heaven came in; let it be so written: and let him who most perfectly so "sets the age to music," be presented by the assembled guild of critics, not with the obsolete and too classical laurel, but with an electro-plated brass medal, bearing the due inscription, Ars est nescire artem. And when, in twelve months' time, he finds himself forgotten, perhaps descried, for the sake of the next aspirant, let him reconsider himself, try whether, after all, the common sense of the many will not prove a juster and a firmer standing-ground than the sentimentality and bad taste of the few, and read Alexander Pope.
In Pope's writings, whatsoever he may not find, he will find the very excellences after which our young poets strive in vain, produced by their seeming opposites, which are now despised and discarded; naturalness produced by studious art; daring sublimity by strict self-restraint; depth by clear simplicity; pathos by easy grace; and a morality infinitely more merciful, as well as more righteous, than the one now in vogue among poetasters, by honest faith in God....
Yes, Pope knew, as well as Wordsworth and our "Naturalisti," that no physical fact was so mean or coarse as to be below the dignity of poetry—when in its right place. He could draw a pathos and sublimity out of the dirty inn-chamber, such as Wordsworth never elicited from tubs and daffodils—because he could use them according to the rules of art, which are the rules of sound reason and of true taste....
The real cause of the modern vagueness is rather to be found in shallow and unsound culture, and in that inability, or carelessness about seeing any object clearly, which besets our poets just now; as the cause of antique clearness lies in the nobler and healthier manhood, in the severer and more methodic habits of thought, the sounder philosophic and critical training which enabled Spenser and Milton to draw up a state paper, or to discourse deep metaphysics, with the same manful possession of their subject which gives grace and completeness to the Penseroso or the Epithalmion. And if our poets have their doubts, they should remember, that those to whom doubt and enquiry are real and stern, are not inclined to sing about them till they can sing poems of triumph over them. There has no temptation taken our modern poets save that which is common to man—the temptation of wishing to make the laws of the universe and of art fit them, as they do not feel inclined to make themselves fit the laws, or care to find them out....
The "poetry of doubt," however pretty, would stand us in little stead if we were threatened with a second Armada. It will conduce little to the valour, "virtues," manhood of any Englishman to be informed by any poet, even in the most melodious verse, illustrated by the most startling and pan-cosmic metaphors, "See what a highly organised and peculiar stomach-ache I have had! Does it not prove indisputably that I am not as other men are?" What gospel there can be in such a message to any honest man who has either to till the earth, plan a railroad, colonise Australia, or fight the despots, is hard to discover. Hard indeed to discover how this most practical, and therefore most epical of ages, is to be "set to music," when all those who talk about so doing persist obstinately in poring, with introverted eyes, over the state of their own digestion, or creed.
What man wants, what art wants, perhaps what the maker of the both wants, is a poet who shall begin by confessing that he is as other men are, and sing about things which concern all men, in language which all men can understand. This is the only road to that gift of prophecy which most young poets are nowadays in such a hurry to arrogate to themselves....
There is just now as wide a divorce between poetry and the commonsense of all time, as there is between poetry and modern knowledge. Our poets are not merely vague and confused, they are altogether fragmentary— disjecta membra poetarum; they need some uniting idea. And what idea?
Our answer will probably be greeted with a laugh. Nevertheless we answer simply. What our poets want is faith. There is little or no faith nowadays. And without faith there can be no real art, for art is the outward expression of firm, coherent belief....
In the meanwhile, poets write about poets, and poetry, and guiding the age, and curbing the world, and waking it, and thrilling it, and making it start, and weep, and tremble, and self-conceit only knows what else; and yet the age is not guided, or the world curbed, or thrilled, or waked, or anything else, by them. Why should it be? Curb and thrill the world? The world is just now a most practical world; and these men are utterly unpractical. The age is given up to physical science: these men disregard and outrage it in every page by their false analogies....
Let the poets of the new school consider carefully Wolfe's "Sir John Moore," Campbell's "Hohenlinden," "Mariners of England," and "Rule Britannia," Hood's "Song of the Shirt" and "Bridge of Sighs," and then ask themselves, as men who would be poets, were it not better to have written any one of these glorious lyrics than all which John Keats has left behind him; and let them be sure that, howsoever they may answer the question to themselves, the sound heart of the English people has already made its choice, and that when that beautiful "Hero and Leander," in which Hood has outrivalled the conceit-mongers at their own weapons, by virtue of that very terseness, clearness, and manliness which they neglect, has been gathered to the limbo of the Crashawes and Marines, his "Song of the Shirt" and his "Bridge of Sighs," will be esteemed by great new English nations far beyond the seas, for what they are—two of the most noble lyric poems ever written by an English pen. If our poetasters talk with Wordsworth of the dignity and pathos of the commonest human things, they will find them there in perfection; if they talk about the cravings of the new time, they will find them there. If they want the truly sublime and awful, they will find them there also. But they will find none of their own favourite concetti; hardly even a metaphor; no taint of this new poetic diction into which we have now fallen, after all our abuse of the far more manly and sincere "poetic diction" of the eighteenth century; they will find no loitering by the way to argue and moralise, and grumble at Providence, and show off the author's own genius and sensibility; they will find, in short, two real works of art, earnest, melodious, self-forgetful, knowing clearly what they want to say, saying it in the shortest, the simplest, the calmest, the most finished words. Saying it—rather taught to say it. For if that "divine inspiration of poets," of which the poetasters make such rash and irreverent boastings, have, indeed, as all ages have held, any reality corresponding to it, it will rather be bestowed on such works as these, appeals from an unrighteous man to a righteous God, than on men whose only claim to celestial help seems to be that mere passionate sensibility, which our modern Draco once described when speaking of poor John Keats, as "an infinite hunger after all manner of pleasant things, crying to the universe, 'oh, that thou wert one great lump of sugar, that I might suck thee!'"
NOVELS FOR CHRISTMAS, 1837
[From Fraser's Magazine, January, 1838]
If against the inroads of the evangelical party the orthodox church has need of a defender, it hardly would wish, we should think, to be assisted tali auxilio. Mrs. Trollope has not exactly the genius which is best calculated to support the Church of England, or to argue upon so grave a subject as that on which she has thought proper to write.
 The Vicar of Wrexhill. By Mrs. Trollope. London, 1837.
With a keen eye, a very sharp tongue, a firm belief, doubtless, in the high church doctrines, and a decent reputation from the authorship of half-a-dozen novels, or other light works, Mrs. Trollope determined on no less an undertaking than to be the champion of oppressed Orthodoxy. These are feeble arms for one who would engage in such a contest, but our fair Mrs. Trollope trusted entirely in her own skill, and the weapon with which she proposed to combat a strong party is no more nor less than this novel of The Vicar of Wrexhill. It is a great pity that the heroine ever set forth on such a foolish errand; she has only harmed herself and her cause (as a bad advocate always will), and had much better have remained home, pudding-making or stocking-mending, than have meddled with matters which she understands so ill.
In the first place (we speak it with due respect for the sex), she is guilty of a fault which is somewhat too common among them; and having very little, except prejudice, on which to found an opinion, she makes up for want of argument by a wonderful fluency of abuse. A woman's religion is chiefly that of the heart, and not of the head. She goes through, for the most part, no tedious process of reasoning, no dreadful stages of doubt, no changes of faith: she loves God as she loves her husband—by a kind of instinctive devotion. Faith is a passion with her, not a calculation; so that, in the faculty of believing, though they far exceed the other sex, in the power of convincing they fall far short of them.
Oh! we repeat once more, that ladies would make puddings and mend stockings! that they would not meddle with religion (what is styled religion, we mean), except to pray to God, to live quietly among their families, and move lovingly among their neighbours! Mrs. Trollope, for instance, who sees so keenly the follies of the other party—how much vanity there is in Bible Meetings—how much sin even at Missionary Societies—how much cant and hypocrisy there is among those who desecrate the awful name of God, by mixing it with their mean interests and petty projects—Mrs. Trollope cannot see that there is any hypocrisy or bigotry on her part. She, who designates the rival party as false, and wicked, and vain—tracing all their actions to the basest motives, declaring their worship of God to be only one general hypocrisy, their conduct at home one fearful scene of crime, is blind to the faults on her own side. Always bitter against the Pharisees, she does as the Pharisees do. It is vanity, very likely, which leads these people to use God's name so often, and to devote all to perdition who do not coincide in their peculiar notions. Is Mrs. Trollope less vain than they when she declares, and merely declares, her own to be the real creed, and stigmatises its rival so fiercely? Is Mrs. Trollope serving God, in making abusive licencious pictures of those who serve Him in a different way? Once, as Mrs. Trollope has read—it was a long time ago!—there was a woman taken in sin; the people brought her before a great Teacher of Truth, who lived in those days. Shall we not kill her? said they; the laws command that all adulteresses be killed. We can fancy a Mrs. Trollope in the crowd, shouting, "oh, the wretch! oh, the abominable harlot! kill her, by all means—stoning is really too good for her!" But what did the Divine Teacher say? He was quite as anxious to prevent the crime as any Mrs. Trollope of them all; but he did not even make an allusion to it—he did not describe the manner in which the poor creature was caught—He made no speech to detail the indecencies which she committed, or to raise the fury of the mob against her—He said "let the man who is without sin himself throw the first stone!" Whereupon the Pharisees and Mrs. Trollope slunk away, for they knew they were no better than she. There was as great a sin in His eyes as that of the poor erring woman—it was the sin of pride.