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rhyme, to render a description poetical. Of this something, Sir, you appear to be ignorant, and while you are so, you cannot tell in what poetry consists; and if not, you must come forward with a very ill grace to instruct the world in its invariable principles. Horace advises us to choose a subject æquam viribus ; and to consider maturely
quid ferre recusent, Quid valeant humeri. I fear, Sir, you forgot this precept of Horace when Mr. Campbell, as you say, forced you into this « idle controversy, by to. tally misrepresenting your statements ;" for as these principles are utterly indefensible, the only evil that could result from Mr. Campbell's mistake was the substitution of one error for another. If he even understood you aright, your principles would still be erroneous : if he mistook you, he could only attribute one error to you instead of another. But to return to the “ Sibyl's Temple," perhaps you will reply, that this description of it is not poetical, because the subject it describes is a work of art. The fallacy of this reply will be rendered obvious, by the following description of Melrose Abbey, by Walter Scott. It is a description which, I have no doubt, you will acknowledge to be poetical; and yet the subject is a work of art, and much less beautiful than the far-famed temple of the Sibyl :
If thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Was never scene so sad and fair. Is it not obvious, from this description of Melrose Abbey, compared with that of the Sibyl's temple, by Mr. Knight, that what renders a description poetical, must be something different from the real qualities of the object described ; as it belongs to the poet to find this something out, as it is the manner in which he describes, that renders his description poetical, it follows, contrary to
your invariable principles, that a more beautiful is not more poetical, than a less beautiful object, as neither one nor the other is poetical in the least degree, abstracted from the manner in which it is handled by the poet. A beautiful object is not therefore « poetical per se.
But you will reply, that the images of beautiful and sublime objects will be more poetical than images drawn from any other objects, though their prototypes in nature are not poetical in themselves. If so, I would simply ask, why beauty or sublimity should render an image poetical, when it does not render the object of which it is an image, poetical in the least? Can you answer this question? I apprehend not, for the following very obvious reason :- A poetical image, or any image presented to us through the medium of writing, whether poetry or prose, is only the image or idea, which the writer's description conveys to us of the object described ; but as it is not the description which conveys the most correct likeness of the original, that is found to be the most poetical; in fact, as such a description would not be poetical at all; it follows, that poetical images are not the real images of the objects described, whether they be sublime or otherwise. The sublimity of the object, therefore, cannot render its image poetical, because a faithful representation of a sublime or any other object will not be poetical in the least. The very attempt to describe a sublime object as it exists in nature, destroys every thing like poetry in the description, nor would such a cor. rect delineation only render the description unpoetical, but even destroy the sublime effect. At the same time, it must be recollected, that no image can properly be called an image of a certain object, if it be not a correct one, that is, if it presents the object to us more or less beautiful,' more or less sublime than it exists in
Your theory, Sir, would confine poetry to sublime, beautiful, and picturesque descriptions ; but poetry will not be restricted to such limits. The poet, indeed, frequently delights in exciting the emotions of the sublime and beautiful: the picturesque, if understood in its most extended acceptation, does not entirely fall within his province. Of the picturesque, however, I must not say more at present, as the subject would carry me far beyond the limits of an epistle ; but I would not pass it over so briefly, were it not that I have been for some time past engaged in preparing for the press a work on the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque, in which I shall have an opportunity of explaining myself fully on the subject of picturesque description, and of its alliance with poetry. It matters, however, but little, so far as regards your theory, whether the picturesque be, or be not, solely and exclusively the inheritance of the poet alone, because it requires little philosophy or experience to perceive, that poetry, so far from confining itself to descriptions that excite only emotions of sublimity, beauty, and picturesqueness, extends its em pire over all the affections, passions, sensations, emotions, sympathies, and sensibilities of man. It is peculiarly the province of the poet to probe the inmost recesses of the heart; to watch all its secret movements and vibrations, and the still more secret and less perceptible causes from which they originate; to trace the varying aspect which different passions assume in different charac ters, under the diversified influences of times and situations; and from the knowledge which he acquires through this commerce with the heart, to create such images of material being, and to connect and associate them in description by such moral and intellectual relations, as are best qualified to call into action the immediate passions, emotions, or sympathies which he intends to excite.
This, Sir, is my view of Poetry, and in taking this view of it, I am led to conclude, that in Poetry there is no quality, property, or attribute of a subject supposed to be feigned. I am aware that Bacon and many writers, have supposed fiction to be the soul of poetry;
and even those who consider fiction not absolutely essential to it, are willing to grant, that it is one of its chief and distinguishing characteristics. It is the business of the poet, as I have already observed, to place such images before us as awaken the immediate emotions which he loves to excite. If he aims to excite a grand and sublime idea, he selects from the object which he describes only such qualities as associate with our ideas of grandeur and sublimity, and carefully conceals all the other qualities that belong to the object. He must not, however, attribute qualities to the object described which the mind has no difficulty in perceiving cannot belong to it; for the mind immediately revolts at imposition, and the detection of the fraud destroys the sublime effect. Hence it is that we cannot endure at present poetic images drawn from the slightest mixture of Christian and Pagan mythology, though we are enraptured with Pagan images in the works of Pagan writers, because we place ourselves in their situations, and feel as they had felt. We know, it is true, that their images and relations are all fictitious, but we know at the same time that they themselves sincerely believed in them, and such is the force of sympathy, that we have no feeling of our own at the moment but what we imagine was felt by our honest but credulous ancestors. In poetry then the mind will endure no qualities to be ascribed to things, no images depicted of them, and no circumstance related of them, which has the slightest appearance of being feigned. "It is true the poet is continually feigning, continually attributing qualities, properties, and affections to objects, which they do not possess ; but then he industriously conceals this fiction from the mind, and he is careful to ascribe no quality to an object but what it possesses, or what the mind has no difficulty in attributing to it. "It is in this his art chiefly lies; for if he attributes a quality to an object which the mind perceives at a glance cannot belong to it, the charm is destroyed, the poetry is destroyed, and we turn from it with disgust. This is the true source of the false sublime in poetry. The poet whose judgment does not keep pace with his imagination, imagines qualities in objects which men of ordinary perceptions and common sense would never suppose them capable of possessing. Accordingly, in describing these objects, clothed in these ennobling qualities, he presents us with a picture, which he expects will fill us with grand and sublime emotions, but which we instantly turn from with aversion, and such pictures we denominate by the name of bombast, or the false sublime. In poetry, then, the mind will endure no images of things that have the appearance of being feigned, though the poet may introduce the most palpable fictions, if he has art enough to introduce them so ingeniously as not to carry the evidence of their fictitious character along with them. This, if I be not mistaken, is the true nature of poetry; and while the poet keeps it in view, he will always know how far he may deviate from strict and literal truth. All writers acknowledge, that even in the most feigned part of poetry, we must not deviate too far from truth ; but the exact limits to which the wanderings of the poet ought to be circumscribed, have not been precisely determined. It is true that fictions in poetry will not endure philosophic investigation, for a little consideration will enable us to perceive, that the poet has imposed upon us; but we are satisfied with the imposition, provided it be not detected intuitively and without any exercise of the understanding. The poet, however, though he is not permitted to ascribe qualities, &c. to objects, which the mind cannot suppose them capable of possessing, may feign an object that ha no existence in nature ; but the moment he gives us a general idea of its nature and character, he is no longer permitted to ascribe qualities to it which do not obviously agree with this nature and character; so that in all cases whatever, the mind will endure no qualities, attributes, properties, affections, or circumstances, to be attributed to objects, which it intuitively perceives cannot belong to them. It matters, however, but little, that philosophy, or even a slight exercise of common sense, should afterwards discover the illusion ; for we may know from the commencement, that the poet is imposing upon us ; but, notwithstanding this knowledge, we are offended with him the moment he suffers us to detect the imposition. The truth is, that there is more pleasure derived from the appearances, than from the realities of things, and, therefore, truth is seldom so agreeable as fiction. But though we wish to grasp at pleasure, in whatever shape it presents itself, we always love to conceal this wish from ourselves; and we cannot endure the poet who, while he professes to please us, discovers every moment, by his want of art, that all the pleasure he imparts is founded in delusion. I am aware that Mr. Campbell says, “ fiction in poetry is open and avowed ;” and so it is, in that qualified sense which I have here explained ; nor do I think ic can be inferred from the spirit of his “ Lectures on Poetry," that he used the terms “ open and avowed” in an unlimited and unrestricted meaning.
I have made these observations on the nature of poetry and poetic images, to show that they are very distant from mere beauty, sublimity, and picturesqueness ; and that, if it be sense to say, “every thing sublime is poetical,” it is equally sense to say, every thing ridiculous is poetical ; for it belongs to poetry and to the poet
to excite the emotion or sense of ridicule, as well as the emotion or sense of sublimity. In a word, poetry, as I have already observed, extends its influence over all the affections, passions, sensations, emotions, sympathies, and sensibilities of man. If the poet wishes to excite a sublime emotion, he selects from the object which he describes such qualities only as associate with our ideas of sublimity; or if the object should be destitute of these qualities, he confers them on it, or at least such of them as the mind may suppose capable of belonging to it. If he wishes to excite the sense of ridicule, he selects, as before, the most ridiculous circumstances that can be attributed to the object, and renders his description highly poetical, though the object he describes is highly ridiculous. Yet it would be as proper to say, that whatever is ridiculous is consequently poetical, because poetry is so well calculated to excite an emotion of ridicule, as to say, that whatever is sublime or beautiful, is consequently poetical, because poetry is so well qualified to excite the emotions of the sublime and beautiful. But I would ask, Sir, what emotion, affection, or passion, that ever agitated the breast of man, is not as much under the dominion of poetry, as the emotions of sublimity, beauty, and ridicule? There is no passion natural to the breast of man, to which there are not corresponding qualities in natural objects, and the moment these objects are presented to us, clothed in these qualities, the corresponding passion is immediately summoned to ac If the poet wishes to xcite the sense of fear, he exclaims, with Collins