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own mightiness on all the productions of art, because, forsooth, they are the works of his own hands. Such a poet is entitled to immortality, if your theory be entitled to credit ; and, no doubt, you would become as immortal yourself as Homer or Virgil, had you not come into the world so many ages after them. With regard to future immortality, however, your fame must necessarily be co-existent with theirs ; for as you were acquainted, in all probability, with this golden theory of nature, before you “ began to serve your apprenticeship to the Muses,” you must have studiously avoided all terms of art in your poetical works; and as a poem, according to your inestimable theory, which so admirably dispenses with all the finer associations and creations of genius, derives “its poetical beauty from nature," and from nature alone, it is obvious, that the “poetical beauty" of your works must far exceed that of Homer or Virgil. Your poems are all nature; theirs are frequently polluted with terms of art. You have there. fore frequently thrust nature in, where they would have thrust her out.
As your poetry is then more natural, and more richly decorated with natural images, which, you say, “are more beautiful and sublime than any images drawn from art; and therefore, per se, more poetical,” it follows very clearly, that your preeminence as a poet, will far outshine that of Homer or Virgil, and that you must be henceforth looked upon as the prince of poets. It matters little that their genius, invention, execution, and mental energies should be superior to yours; for your theory packs genius, invention, and execution out of doors at once, when you tell us that “a description of a forest is more poetical than a description of a cultivated garden, WHATEVER MIGHT BE THE DIFFERENCE OF MERIT IN POINT OF EXECUTION.” Now, Sir, as your poems are all forests, that is, all images and subjects taken from nature; and as such subjects and images are more poetical, “ whatever might be the difference of merit in point of execution," it is as clear as demonstration itself, that your works must be more poetical than those of Homer or Virgil, and consequently, that
you are a greater poet than either. In saying that all your subjects and images are taken from nature, I merely suppose so from your own theory; for who would choose any other subjects or images, who was acquainted with the value of them, and the immortality which they are calculated to confer upon the lowest and the most sluggish of the Dunciad tribe?
It matters little, according to your invariable principles," how ignorant a poet may be of nature itself, provided he talk of nothing else,-how ignorant he may be of the soul and spirit of poetry, or of the propriety of the images which he introduces into it, provided they are taken from nature alone, and excite no associations connected with art, or its productions. I am aware that this will appear to some of your readers, not to be ostensibly your theory; for it is so enveloped in sophistry of diction, and confusion of terms, that it is calculated to deceive some, and to confound others in labyrinths of inexplicable and indefinite meaning. I am, however, prepared to prove, that this is virtually your theory; and I am equally prepared to prove, that your theory would make « Thomson's Seasons” infinitely more beautiful and poetical than the « Iliad,” or “ Paradise Lost.”
I regret, indeed, that I should have to take up the subject after Lord Byron, whose reply to you is the reply of a philosopher, a poet, and a writer of refined and classical taste, and which you acknowledge yourself to be “ at once argumentative and eloquent.' But neither refined taste, nor philosophy, using the term in its enlarged acceptation, I mean that philosophy which looks only to the grander and sublimer operations of nature, without descending to that metaphysical abstraction, that watches and detects the minuter elements of which she is composed, can enable us to silence a writer whose baseless theories are profoundly immerged in what I have already called “ labyrinths of inexplicable and indefinite meaning.” It seems to have escaped Lord Byron, that the fallacy of your theory lay in your words, and therefore he replied to you as a poet and a philosopher, rather than as a metaphysician. In this, I think his Lordship has erred, for it is only as a metaphysician that he could enter the labyrinths, and explore the secret holds, in which you had secured, or hoped to secure, your doubtful retreat-in a word, that he could prove, either that your propositions conveyed no meaning, or that if they conveyed any, it was a meaning, founded in error, supported by sophistry, and clothed in the light drapery of sensible though unsubstantial reality. Lord Byron probably had not patience to pursue you through all the involutions and oppositions of sense that characterize your “invariable principles," and the variable arguments by which you endeavor to maintain them : probably the sublime conceptions and rapid energies that characterize his writings, would not suffer him to linger over privations of thought, or to seek for gleams of understanding amid wastes of intellect. If, therefore, I succeed in demonstrating the fallacy of your “ invariable principles,” perhaps I should attribute my success to the want of genius, rather than to the possession of it.
Lord Byron says, that, in poetry, the subject is nothing, the execution is everything. This position his lordship has satisfactorily proved ; though, from not attacking the evil at the root, and proving that neither images, taken from art or nature, are poetical per se, he has left you an opportunity of replying to him again;
and you will always reply, till this fallacy on which your whole
Your principles are contained in the following extract from the tenth volume of your edition of Pope's Works :
“ I presume it will readily be granted, that all images drawn from what is beautiful or sublime in the works of nature, are more beautiful and sublime than any images drawn from art, and that they are therefore, per se, more poetical.”
“ In like manner, those passions of the human heart which belong to nature in general, are, per se, more adapted to the higher species of poetry, than those which are derived from incidental and transient manners. A description of a forest is more poetical than a description of a cultivated garden, and the passions which are pourtrayed in the epistle of an Eloisa, render such a poem more poetical (whatever might be the difference of merit in point of execution), intrinsically more poetical, than a poem founded on the characters, incidents, and modes of artificial life; for instance, the Rape of the Lock.»
- If this be admitted, the rule by which we would estimate Pope's general poetical character would be obvious.”
Here we have the sum and substance of your principles. What follows is a mere elucidation of them; and as your propositions are laid down dogmatically, and without any qualification whatever, they must stand or fall by themselves. If they be erroneous, they cannot be explained away by any logical evasions, nor redeemed by that torture of argument to which writers, engaged in a hopeless cause, have so frequently recourse.
Your first principle is, that « images drawn from what is beautiful or sublime in the works of nature, are more beautiful and sublime than any images drawn from art, and that they are, therefore, per sè, more poetical.” In this proposition you evidently confound the terms beautiful and sublime with poetical ; for, to say that an object is poetical in proportion as it is sublime and beautiful, is to say, that sublime, beautiful, and poetical, are synonymous terms-a fallacy the more necessary to be detected, as
it has given the arguments which you have used in your reply to Lord Byron, a degree of plausibility, which vanishes into air, the moment we perceive the sophistry on which it rests. If every thing that is beautiful and sublime be also poetical, it follows, that the Deity is the most poetical of all beings, because he is the most sublime; and yet, if any person spoke to you of a poetical deity, I doubt whether you would imagine for a moment, that he alluded to the sublime Creator of heaven and earth. That a sublime object may be a proper subject for poetical description I do not deny, while I maintain that other objects are equally so ; but that a sublime object is a poetical one, I believe no person will admit. Beautiful and poetical objects are equally distinct from each other. The fair sex are generally allowed to afford us the best specimens of beauty ; but who would think of calling his wife the most poetical woman in England, if she happened to be the most beautiful? I doubt whether she would even be the best subject for poetical description ; and though I admit, that the most beautiful of women will always be acknowledged by mankind as the most beautiful of all sensible objects, yet there will still be many objects in nature, infinitely better calculated for poetic description than the mere personal form or beauty of the most beautiful woman. Were I even to confine myself to woman alone, I think few will deny, that her virtues, her sensibilities, and the union of her mental attractions and sympathetic affections, yield more rapture and enthusiasm to the associations of the poet, and are consequently capable of being rendered more poetical, than the most exquisite delineations of mere external form. In saying, therefore, that whatever is beautiful and sublime must be poetical, you have attached a latitude of meaning to the term, which neither the English nor any other language will admit. Those writers who have most profoundly investigated the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful, never imagined they were only writing treatises on the poetical; and yet it is certain, that if every thing sublime and beautiful be poetical, all the works written on these subjects since the time of Longinus, are so many treatises on poetry. You had, no doubt, your own reasons for not explaining to your readers the fixed and definite idea which you attached to the term poetical; and had you even been willing to do so, it is still a question whether you were acquainted with it; or whether you attached any certain idea, or association of ideas, to the term at all. Nothing can be more favorable to the aims of a controversial writer than the latitude of meaning that is attached to some terms; but there is a certain boundary, beyond which no correct, or even sensible writer, will extend the terms which he makes use of. It is, moreover, a duty in every writer, who rests an argument on any term, to explain in what sense he uses it at the time.
It appears, therefore, either that you attached no fixed meaning to the term poetical, or that you purposely used it in a vague and undefined sense, in order that the ambiguity of your terms might gain credence to the fallacy of your arguments. It will, however, soon appear, if you submit to the conclusions that obviously result from your own arguments and principles, that you have entirely mistaken the true nature of poetry; and that, consequently, the distich which you have so frequently applied to Lord Byron, is more applicable to yourself:
“ It grieves me much, the clerk might say again,
I will readily grant, that there is considerable difficulty in distinguishing poetical, beautiful, and sublime images from each other; or, if it should be easy to determine whether a certain image be beautiful, poetical, or sublime, it would still be found difficult to tell, what universally distinguished all objects and images to which these terms are applicable. But, though all writers have felt, and many eminent writers have endeavoured to remove, this difficulty, you, I believe, are the only writer who have confounded them with each other. You go still farther, and tell us, that whatever is picturesque is also poetical, in which case it must be sublime and beautiful also. In truth, the poetical becomes whatever you choose to make of it; so that no one can be surprised at the little embarrassment with which you seem to defend your theory, who perceives the latitude of meaning, if it may not be called total want of meaning, which you attach to the words on which your arguments principally depend.
But perhaps you will reply, that you do not use the terms poetical, beautiful,' sublime, and picturesque, as synonymous; and contend, that though every thing beautiful, sublime, and picturesque, is poetical, it does not follow, that every thing poetical must be sublime. That you will make use of this argument, I am inclined to think from the following notice, prefixed to your Reply to Lord Byron : “ It would be important for the reader to keep in mind, one plain distinction in reading what is here offered. Whatever is picturesque is so far poetical; but all that is poetical does not require to be picturesque." By a parity of reasoning you will reply, that whatever is sublime and beautiful is so far poetical; though whatever is poetical does not require to be sublime and beautiful. Now, Sir, if this argument be just, it follows, that the poetical is a genus, of which the sublime, the beautiful, &c.