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when you immediately add, “ The execution is to be taken into consideration.” Here we are inclined to think that the execution is that something which is to constitute a part of the poetical excellency, even though you do not inform us into what kind of consideration it is to be taken. And we are warranted in thinking so, for as you inform us that the subject alone does not constitute poetical excellency, and as there must therefore be something else to co-operate with it, and as there is no something else mentioned throughout the entire of your answer to Lord Byron but the execution, we are led by the most rigid and logical process of reasoning, to conclude, that the execution is that something which co-operates with the subject in constituting poetical excellency. But how much are we deceived in drawing this inference; for when you come to explain yourself, you coolly
turn round and tell us, that the subject is “ to be considered respecting the poetry,” the execution respecting “ the art and powers of the poet." Now though there is certainly no meaning in saying we must consider the subject respecting the poetry, &c. as a thousand considerations might come into our heads relative to them, which never entered into yours, and with which, consequently, it was not your
intention to trouble us, yet we can easily perceive from the context, that
you mean to
poetsy is to be ascribed to the subject, and the execution to the art and powers of the poet. No person can doubt, for a moment, that this is your meaning, and I dare say you will not deny it yourself; but then, if the poetry be ascribed to the subject alone, does it not flatly contradict the inference which we were led to make from your first and second propositions, namely, that the subject alone does not constitute poetical excellency, and that the execution was to be taken into consideration? From these propositions, we were justified in concluding, that the execution was what made up that part of the “poetical excellency” which the “ subject alone did not constitute ;" but here we are told, that we must ascribe the “ poetry” to the “ subject," and the “execution to the art and powers
If so, then, the execution comes in for no part of that poetical excellency which we were told “the subject alone did not constitute ;" and though it does not constitute it, yet the entire of the poetry is here ascribed to it; and the only consideration into which the execution is to be taken, appears to be, that we must ascribe it to the art and
powers of the poet. What. ever is poetical, therefore, in the Paradise Lost, is to be ascribed to the subject, and not to Milton : it is the execution alone for which he can be allowed any credit. But who can avoid being sick of this confusion of subject, execution, poetry, poetical excellency, and art and powers of the poet ?” Who can avoid smiling, when
of the poet.
you condescend to admit that you do not think the subject alone constitutes poetical excellency,” though you immediately afterwards ascribe the entire to it? Does it require a moment's reflection to perceive, that the entire of the poetical excellency of the Iliad, the Æneid, and the Paradise Lost, must be entirely attributed to their illustrious authors, and to that poetical genius with which they were endowed by nature? If you were to attempt an heroic poem on a subject similar to either of these, I doubt whether you would not soon perceive, that the “poetical excellency” would depend more on yourself than on your subject. In my opinion, it is verging on idiotism to ascribe any part of the excellency of a poem to the subject; for if such a poem as the Iliad had been attempted by Pascal, Locke, Longuerie, or Bayle, they would have produced 'Iliads, which, so far from possessing any “poetical excellency," would be looked upon by the critics either as a stiff and affected kind of prose, or, at best, as a wretched species of prosaic versification. You must acknowledge, however, that if the powers of a Locke, a Newton, or of the most learned and profound writers, cannot render such a subject as the Iliad poetical, the poetical excellency must be in the execution alone, and not in the subject; for if any subject were poetical, none could be more so than that of the Iliad, judging of a poetical subject according to your own theory. It is therefore to the poetical mind, and not to the subject, that we must refer the entire of the poetical excellency. He who said,
Poeta nascitur, non fit, was a much better judge of the nature of poetry than you appear to be ; for he who is not born a poet, or whose genius is averse to it, will never attain to poetical excellency, whatever be the subject he treats, or however studious he may be of drawing all his images from nature alone.
It is not the subject therefore, or the images introduced by the poet, that constitute poetical excellency, or even the smallest ingredient in it. All depends, as I have already observed, on the associations created by the poet, that is, on the art with which he connects his images, and the ideas that naturally arise from the nature of this connexion. When Gray represents the eagle
dominion Through the azure deep of air; would you think it more poetical to say, flying with supreme dominion, than sailing ? If your theory be of any value, the term “flying” would certainly be more poetical than that of a sailing," as it expresses the natural action of a natural being, and, consequentiy, this natural manner of moving through the air, and the term which expresses it, ought to be more poetical, because it is a natural image, than the image conveyed by sailing, which is a term taken from art. If, then, you acknowledge that “ sailing" is more poetical than «flying with supreme dominion," what becomes of your “ invariable principles ?” Is not this an exception to them ? and have we not here an image taken from art more poetical than an image taken from nature? How then is the poet to determine, according to you, when two images present themselves to him, one from nature, and the other from art? Is he invariably to prefer the image from nature ? if so, we should correct these two lines of Gray, by reading flying for sailing. But if there be cases in which the image from art ought to be preferred, your poetical principles are consequently not invariable. You should therefore favor us with one other principle to direct us, when the natural image ought to be rejected, and the image from art preferred. Such a principle must be unavoidably added to those which you have already laid down, before the poet can properly avail himself of your « invariable principles;" for though this new principle will unfortunately prove the old ones not to be invariable ; yet, without its presiding influence, we can never know when the image from art ought to be preferred to the image from nature; and we must in all cases follow the invariable principle that prefers the latter.
I am of opinion, that if any principle can be discovered which could enable us to use your invariable principles with proper caution, it would be, never to use images taken from art where the natural image can be admitted with propriety. Do you think your invariable principles sufficiently guarded by this restriction? If not, I doubt whether you can discover a better yourself, and I suspect, you would have originally placed it among your “principles,” if you had thought of it, or imagined they would be so vulnerable without it. But I fear, your invariable principles cannot stand, even supported by this saving prop. Can any person suppose, that flying is not as properly, that it is not even more properly, applied to a bird than sailing ? yet, though the application is proper, and though the image which it pictures to the mind is natural, we find that this natural image is infinitely less poetical than the image taken from art. The eagle “ sailing with supreme dominion," has a majesty in it that cannot be perceived in the eagle flying. But what does this majesty arise from ? Certainly, neither from art nor nature, using the term in your sense of it, but from association. There is a majesty in the motion of a ship in full sail, and we feel a peculiar pleasure in perceiving this majesty transferred to an object placed in a proud and elevated situation, where it is increased by its association with sublimity. We do not wait to examine with a cold and calculating hesitancy, whether a term more natural and appropriate to the eagle could be found, but yield at once to the elevated emotion produced by the united ideas of sublimity and majesty. The poet never stipulates with us to use no terms or epithets but what are rigidly and philosophically true. We know his object is to please rather than to instruct, but, if possible, to unite pleasure with instruction. When, therefore, he selects such epithets as are better fitted to elicit pleasing emotions, than to exercise our understandings, we yield without hesitation to their seductive influence, never regarding whether they were taken from nature or from art, and never inquiring by what magic they produce their effect. This truth is happily expressed by Mr. Campbell, in his Lectures on Poetry, where his subject leads him to treat of poetic fiction, and to distinguish it from delusive representations in prose :
“ In poetry, and there alone, the illusion of language is not deception. When either the pleader misleads us into false sympathies, or the sophist into fanciful theories, there is no convention of the mind with their falsifications ; nor would the wildest zealot of the most Utopian school of philosophy, so far compromise the dignity of his own understanding, as to acknowledge to himself that for the sake of pleasure, he was voluntarily embracing an error. But in poetry we are transported to enthusiasm, with what, as to literal occurrence, we know on the slightest reflection to be a dream. Nor does the retrospect of the judgment at all prevent us from rebuilding, with fresh delight, the airy edifice which has been thus disenchanted.”
Having quoted from Mr. Campbell, I shall now examine the boast which you make relative to him, in your Reply to Lord Byron : “Mr. Campbell declined, at least, farther contest--whether because he would not, or because he thought he could not, is of no consequence. Your Lordship implies that he would not; I am bold to say he could not, and I am bolder to say even your Lordship cannot.”
Whether Mr. Campbell would not answer you, I cannot tell, but that he could answer you, I feel perfectly satisfied; for his “ Leçtures on Poetry” would furnish any writer with sufficient data to set your theory at rest. In your Letter to him, you have kept aloof from an observation of his which bore heaviest on your theory. He observes in his “ Essay on English Poetry,” that “ the faculty by which a poet luminously describes objects of art, is essentially the same faculty which enables him to be a faithful describer of
simple nature.” If this assertion be true, your theory avails but
your “ Observations on the Poetical Character of Pope, in reply to Octavius Gilchrist," that Mr. Campbell has mistaken your theory. “Mr. Campbell,” you say,
judges that the exquisite description of artificial objects and manners is NOT LESS—(than what ? not less poetical than exquisite descriptions of nature ! no such thing ;) -EXQUISITE DESCRIPTIONS of artificial objects, are not less CHARACTERISTIC of GENIUS than the description of simple physical appearances !!” The critic here confines himself to the first part of my proposition. Instead of answering this part, he says, the "exquisite description" of works of art, is not less characteristic of genius than descriptions of simple physical appearances ! Doubtless! but one half, and that the most essential, of my proposition, is entirely omitted, and the other half mistaken. Why not take the plain words of the proposition, and answer “negatur ?" Why confound the proposition by talking of « characteristics of genius ?”
This, Sir, is your defence against Mr. Campbell's stricture on your theory. Whether “ you would not or could not defend it better, I will not pretend to determine; but certain I am, that two propositions were never defended worse.
Mr Campbell has mistaken the first part of your proposition; I say he has not; and if I had never read his criticism, I could easily perceive the impossibility of his mistaking the first part of a proposition. A proposition makes only one affirmation, and he who mistakes this affirmation, mistakes the entire at once. He cannot mistake what precedes the affirmation per se, for as there is nothing affirmed, there is nothing to be mistaken in it. The same argument holds good with regard to what follows the affirmation ; so that it is impossible to mistake at all without mistaking the entire.
It happens, however, that the substance of your “invariable principles” are contained in two propositions, a circumstance which you might the more easily recollect, as you dignify the second with the title of consecutive, because, as you eloquently explain it, “ it follows, and does not go before.” Neither of these has been mistaken by Mr. Campbell. You merely wish them to be mistaken because they will not bear to be understood: they will not endure the light of investigation, and therefore you would wish us to believe, that whenever we detect their absurdity, it is