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´╗┐Title: English literary criticism
Author: Vaughan, Charles Edwyn
Language: English
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Edited by C H. HERFORD, Litt. D



In the following pages my aim has been to sketch the development of
criticism, and particularly of critical method, in England; and to
illustrate each phase of its growth by one or two samples taken from
the most typical writers. I have in no way attempted to make a full
collection of what might be thought the most striking pieces of
criticism to be found in our literature.

Owing to the great wealth of such writing produced during the last
sixty years, it is clearly impossible to give so complete a picture
of what has been done in this period as in others. I am obliged to
content myself with one specimen of one writer. But that is the writer
who, in the opinion of many, is the most remarkable of all English
critics. For the permission, so kindly granted, to include the Essay
on Sandro Botticelli I desire to offer my sincerest thanks to Messrs.
Macmillan and to the other representatives of the late Mr. Pater.

It may seem strange to close a volume of literary criticism with a
study on the work and temperament of a painter. I have been led to do
so for more than one reason. A noticeable tendency of modern criticism,
from the time of Burke and Lessing, has been to break down the barrier
between poetry and the kindred arts; and it is perhaps well that this
tendency should find expression in the following selection. But a
further reason is that Mr. Pater was never so much himself, was never
so entirely master of his craft, as when interpreting the secrets of
form and colour. Most of all was this the case when he had chosen for
his theme one who, like Botticelli, "is before all things a poetical





I. An Apology for Poetry


II. Preface to the Fables


III. On the Metaphysical Poets


IV. On Poetic Genius and Poetic Diction


V. On Poetry in General


VI. On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century VII. On Webster's
_Duchess of Malfi_ VIII. On Ford's _Broken Heart_


IX. A Defence of Poetry


X. Goethe


XI. Sandro Botticelli


In England, as elsewhere, criticism was a late birth of the literary
spirit. English poets had sung and literary prose been written for
centuries before it struck men to ask themselves, What is the secret
of the power that these things have on our mind, and by what principles
are they to be judged? And it could hardly have been otherwise.
Criticism is a self-conscious art, and could not have arisen in an age
of intellectual childhood. It is a derivative art, and could scarcely
have come into being without a large body of literature to suggest
canons of judgment, and to furnish instances of their application.

The age of Chaucer might have been expected to bring with it a new
departure. It was an age of self-scrutiny and of bold experiment. A
new world of thought and imagination had dawned upon it; and a new
literature, that of Italy, was spread before it. Yet who shall say
that the facts answer to these expectations? In the writings of Chaucer
himself a keen eye, it is true, may discern the faint beginnings of
the critical spirit. No poet has written with more nicely calculated
art; none has passed a cooler judgment upon the popular taste of his
generation. We know that Chaucer despised the "false gallop" of
chivalrous verse; we know that he had small respect for the marvels
of Arthurian romance. And his admiration is at least as frank as his
contempt. What poet has felt and avowed a deeper reverence for the
great Latins? What poet has been so alert to recognize the
master-spirits of his own time and his father's? De Meung and Granson
among the French--Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio of the Italians--each
comes in for his share of praise from Chaucer, or of the princely
borrowings which are still more eloquent than praise.

Yet, for all this, Chaucer is far indeed from founding the art of
criticism. His business was to create, and not to criticise. And, had
he set himself to do so, there is no warrant that his success would
have been great. In many ways he was still in bondage to the mediaval,
and wholly uncritical, tradition. One classic, we may almost say, was
as good to him as another. He seems to have placed Ovid on a line with
Virgil; and the company in his House of Fame is undeniably mixed. His
judgments have the healthy instinct of the consummate artist. They do
not show, as those of his master, Petrarch, unquestionably do, the
discrimination and the tact of the born critic.

For this, or for any approach to it, English literature had to wait
for yet two centuries more. In the strict sense, criticism did not
begin till the age of Elizabeth; and, like much else in our literature,
it was largely due to the passion for classical study, so strongly
marked in the poets and dramatists of Shakespeare's youth, and
inaugurated by Surrey and others in the previous generation. These
conditions are in themselves significant. They serve to explain much
both of the strength and the weakness of criticism, as it has grown
up on English soil. From the Elizabethans to Milton, from Milton to
Johnson, English criticism was dominated by constant reference to
classical models. In the latter half of this period the influence of
these models, on the whole, was harmful. It acted as a curb rather
than as a spur to the imagination of poets; it tended to cripple rather
than give energy to the judgment of critics. But in earlier days it
was not so. For nearly a century the influence of classical masterpieces
was altogether for good. It was not the regularity but the richness,
not the self-restraint but the freedom, of the ancients that came home
to poets such as Marlowe, or even to critics such as Meres. And if
adventurous spirits, like Spenser and Sidney, were for a time misled
into the vain attempt to graft exotic forms upon the homely growths
of native poetry, they soon saw their mistake and revolted in silence
against the ridiculous pedant who preferred the limping hexameters of
the _Arcadia_ to Sidney's sonnets, and the spavined iambics of Spenser
to the _Faerie Queene_.

In the main, the worship of the classics seems to have counted at this
time rather for freedom than restraint. And it is well that it was so.
Yet restraint too was necessary; and, like freedom, it was found--
though in less ample measure--through devotion to the classics. There
can be little doubt that, consciously or no, the Elizabethans, with
their quick eye for beauty of every kind, were swayed, as men in all
ages have been swayed, by the finely chiselled forms of classical art.
The besetting sin of their imagination was the tendency to run riot;
and it may well be that, save for the restraining influence of ancient
poetry, they would have sinned in this matter still more boldly than
they did. Yet the chastening power of classical models may be easily
overrated. And we cannot but notice that it was precisely where the
classical influence was strongest that the force of imagination was
the least under control. Jonson apart, there were no more ardent
disciples of the ancients than Marlowe and Chapman. And no poets of
that age are so open to the charge of extravagance as they.  It is
with Milton that the chastening influence of the ancients first makes
itself definitely felt. But Milton was no less alive to the fervour
than to the self-mastery of his classical models. And it was not till
the Restoration that "correctness" was recognized as the highest, if
not the only, quality of the ancients, or accepted as the one worthy
object of poetic effort. For more than a century correctness remained
the idol both of poetry and of criticism in England; and nothing less
than the furious onslaught of the Lyrical Ballads was needed to
overthrow it. Then the floodgates were opened. A new era both of poetic
and critical energy had dawned.

Thus the history of English criticism, like that of English literature,
divides itself roughly into three periods. The first is the period of
the Elizabethans and of Milton; the second is from the Restoration to
the French Revolution; the third from the Revolution to the present
day. The typical critic of the first period is Sidney; Dryden opens
and Johnson closes the second; the third, a period of far more varied
tendencies than either of the others, is perhaps most fitly represented
by Lamb, Hazlitt, and Carlyle. It will be the aim of the following
pages to sketch the broader outlines of the course that critical inquiry
has taken in each.

I. The first thing that strikes us in the early attempts of criticism
is that its problems are to a large extent remote from those which
have engrossed critics of more recent times. There is little attempt
to appraise accurately the worth of individual authors; still less,
to find out the secret of their power, or to lay bare the hidden lines
of thought on which their imagination had set itself to work. The first
aim both of Puttenham and of Webbe, the pioneers of Elizabethan
criticism, was either to classify writers according to the subjects
they treated and the literary form that each had made his own, or to
analyse the metre and other more technical elements of their poetry.

But this, after all, was the natural course in the infancy of the
study. All science begins with classification; and all classification
with the external and the obvious. The Greek critics could take no
step forward until they had classified all poems as either lyric, epic,
or dramatic. And how necessary that division was may be seen from the
length at which Plato discusses the nature of the distinction in the
second book of the Republic. Even Aristotle, in this as in other things
the 'master of those who know', devotes no inconsiderable space of the
Poetics to technical matters such as the analysis of vocal sounds, and
the aptness of different metres to different forms of poetic thought.

There is another matter in which the methods of Elizabethan critics
run side by side with those of the early Greeks. In Plato and Aristotle
we are not seldom startled by the sudden transition from questions of
form to the deepest problems suggested by imaginative art. The same
is true of the Elizabethan critics. It is doubtless true that the
latter give a proportionally larger space to the more technical sides
of the subject than their Greek forerunners. They could not reasonably
be expected to write with the width of view that all the world has
admired in Aristotle and Plato. Moreover, they were from the first
confronted with a practical difficulty from which the Greek critics
were so fortunate as to be free. Was rhyme a "brutish" form of verse?
and, if so, was its place to be taken by the alliterative rhythm, so
dear to the older poets, or by an importation of classical metres,
such as was attempted by Sidney and Spenser, and enforced by the
unwearied lectures of Harvey and of Webbe? This, however technical,
was a fundamental question; and, until it was settled, there was but
little use in debating the weightier matters of the law.

The discussion, which might have raged for ever among the critics, was
happily cut short by the healthy instinct of the poets. Against
alliteration the question had already been given by default. Revived,
after long disuse, by Langland and other poets of the West Midlands
in the fourteenth century, it had soon again been swept out of fashion
by the irresistible charm of the genius of Chaucer. The _Tale of
Gamelyn_, dating apparently from the first quarter of the fifteenth
century, is probably the last poem of note in which the once universal
metre is even partially employed. And what could prove more clearly
that the old metrical form was dead? The rough rhythm of early English
poetry, it is true, is kept; but alliteration is dropped, and its place
is taken by rhyme.

Nor were the efforts to impose classical measures on English poetry
more blest in their results. The very men on whom the literary
Romanizers had fixed their hopes were the first to abandon the
enterprise in despair. If any genius was equal to the task of
naturalizing hexameters in a language where strict quantity is unknown,
it was the genius of Spenser. But Spenser soon ranged himself heart
and soul with the champions of rhyme; his very name has passed down
to us as a synonym for the most elaborate of all rhyming stanzas that
have taken root in our verse. For the moment, rhyme had fairly driven
all rivals from the field. Over the lyric its sway was undisputed. In
narrative poetry, where its fitness was far more disputable, it
maintained its hold till the closing years of Milton. In the drama
itself, where its triumph would have been fatal, it disputed the ground
inch by inch against the magnificent instrument devised by Surrey and
perfected by Marlowe.

It was during the ten years preceding the publication of Webbe's
_Discourse_ (1586) that this controversy seems to have been hottest.
From the first, perhaps, it bulked more largely with the critics than
with the poets themselves. Certainly it allowed both poets and critics
sufficient leisure for the far more important controversy which has
left an enduring monument in Sidney's _Apologie for Poetrie_. [Footnote:
The most important pieces of Elizabethan criticism are:--

  Gosson's _School of Abuse_, 1579.
  Lodge's _Defence of Poetry, Musick, and Stage Plays_, 1579(?).
  Sidney's _Apologie for Poetrie_, 1580(?).
  Webbe's _Discourse of English Poetrie_, 1586.
  Puttenham's _Arte of English Poesie_, 1589.
  Harington's _Apologie of Poetrie_, 1591.
  Meres' _Palladis Tamia_, 1598.
  Campion's _Observations in the Arte of English Poesie_, 1602.
  Daniel's _Defence of Ryme_, 1603.]

The historical bearing of Sidney's treatise has been too commonly
overlooked. It forms, in truth, one move in the long struggle which
ended only with the restoration of Charles II.; or, to speak more
accurately, which has lasted, in a milder form, to the present day.
In its immediate object it was a reply to the Puritan assaults upon
the theatre; in its ultimate scope, a defence of imaginative art against
the suspicions with which men of high but narrow purpose have always,
consciously or unconsciously, tended to regard it. It is a noble plea
for liberty, directed no less against the unwilling scruples of
idealists, such as Plato or Rousseau, than against the ruthless bigotry
of practical moralists and religious partisans.

From the first dawn of the Elizabethan drama, the stricter Protestants
had declared war upon the stage. Intrenched within the city they were
at once able to drive the theatres beyond the walls (1575); just as
seventy years later, when it had seized the reins of central government,
the same party, embittered by a thousand insults and brutalities,
hastened to close the theatres altogether. It would be an evident
mistake to suppose that this was merely a municipal prejudice, or to
forget that the city council was backed by a large body of serious
opinion throughout the country. A proof of this, if proof were needed,
is to be found in the circumstances that gave rise to the _Apologie_
of Sidney.

The attack on the stage had been opened by the corporation and the
clergy. It was soon joined by the men of letters. And the essay of
Sidney was an answer neither to a town councillor, nor to a preacher,
but to a former dramatist and actor. This was Stephen Gosson, author
of the _School of Abuse_. The style of Gosson's pamphlet is nothing
if not literary. It is full of the glittering conceits and the fluent
rhetoric which the ready talent of Lyly had just brought into currency.
It is euphuism of the purest water, with all the merits and all the
drawbacks of the euphuistic manner. For that very reason the blow was
felt the more keenly. It was violently resented as treason by the
playwrights and journalists who still professed to reckon Gosson among
their ranks. [Footnote: Lodge writes, "I should blush from a Player
to become an enviouse Preacher".--_Ancient Critical Essays_, ed.
Haslewood, ii. 7.]

A war of pamphlets followed, conducted with the usual fury of literary
men. Gosson on the one side, Lodge, the dramatist, upon the other,
exchanged compliments with an energy which showed that one at least
of them had not in vain graduated in "the school of abuse". "Raw
devises", "hudder mudder", "guts and garbage", such are the phrases
hurled by Gosson at the arguments and style of his opponents; "bawdy
charms", "the very butchery of Christian souls", are samples of the
names fastened by him upon the cause which they defended. [Footnote:
Lodge, in his _Defence of Poetry, Musick, and Stage Plays_ (1579 or
1580), is hardly less scurrilous. "There came into my hand lately a
little (would God a wittye) pamphelet.... Being by me advisedly wayed,
I find it the oftscome of imperfections, the writer fuller of words
than judgement, the matter certainely as ridiculus as serius."--In
_Ancient Critical Essays_, ii. 5.]

From this war of words Sidney turned loftily aside. Pointedly challenged
at the outset--for the first and second pamphlets of Gosson had, without
permission, been dedicated to "the right noble gentleman, Maister
Philip Sidney"--he seldom alludes to the arguments, and never once
mentions the name of Gosson. He wrote to satisfy his own mind, and not
to win glory in the world of letters. And thus his _Apologie_, though
it seems to have been composed while the controversy was still fresh
in men's memory, was not published until nearly ten years after his
death (1595). It was not written for controversy, but for truth. From
the first page it rises into the atmosphere of calm, in which alone
great questions can be profitably discussed.

The _Apologie_ of Sidney is, in truth, what would now be called a
Philosophy of Poetry. It is philosophy taken from the side of the
moralist; for that was the side to which the disputants had confined
themselves, and in which--altogether apart from the example of
others--the interest of Sidney, as man of action, inevitably lay. It
is philosophy as conceived by the mind of a poet. But, none the less,
it pierces to the eternal problems which underlie the workings of all
creative art, and presents them with a force, for the like of which
we must go back to Plato and Aristotle, or look forward to the
philosophers and inspired critics of a time nearer our own. It recalls
the _Phadrus_ and the _Ion_; it anticipates the utterance of a still
more kindred spirit, the _Defence of Poetry_ by Shelley.

Philosopher as he was, Sidney arranges his thoughts in the loose order
of the poet or the orator. It may be well, therefore, to give a brief
sketch of his argument; and to do so without much regard to the
arrangement of the _Apologie_ itself.

The main argument of the _Apologie_ may indeed be called a commentary
on the saying of Aristotle, cited by Sidney himself, that "Poetry is
more philosophical and more studiously serious than History"--that is,
as Sidney interprets it, than the scientific fact of any kind; or
again, on that yet more pregnant saying of Shelley, that "poets are
the unacknowledged legislators of the world". Gosson had denounced
poetry as "the vizard of vanity, wantonness, and folly"; or, in Sidney's
paraphrase, as "the mother of lies and the nurse of abuse". Sidney
replies by urging that of all arts poetry is the most true and the
most necessary to men.

All learning, he pleads, and all culture begin with poetry. Philosophy,
religion, and history herself, speak through the lips of poetry. There
is indeed a sense in which poetry stands on higher ground than any
science. There is no science, not even metaphysics, the queen of all
sciences, that does not "build upon nature", and that is not, so far,
limited by the facts of nature. The poet alone is "not tied to any
such subjection"; he alone "freely ranges within the zodiac of his own

This, no doubt, is dangerous ground, and it is enforced by still more
dangerous illustrations. But Sidney at once guards himself by insisting,
as Plato had done before him, that the poet too is bound by laws which
he finds but does not make; they are, however, laws not of fact but
of thought, the laws of the idea--that is, of the inmost truth of
things, and of God. Hence it is that the works of the poet seem to
come from God, rather than from man. They stand rather on a level with
nature, the material of all sciences, than with the sciences themselves,
which are nothing more than man's interpretation of nature. In some
sense, indeed, they are above nature; they stand midway between nature
and him who created nature. They are a first nature, "beyond and over
the works of that second nature". For they are the self-revelation of
that which is the noblest work of God, and which in them finds utterance
at its best and brightest.

Thus, so far from being the "mother of lies", poetry is the highest
form of truth. Avowedly so, in what men have always recognized to be
the noblest poetry, the psalms and parables and other writings that
"do imitate the inconceivable excellences of God". To a less degree,
but still avowedly, in that poetry whose theme is philosophy or history.
And so essentially, however men may overlook it, in that poetry which,
professedly dealing with human life as we know it, does not content
itself with reproducing the character of this man or that, but "reined
only with learned discretion, ranges into the divine consideration of
what may be and should be"--of the universal and complete rather than
the individual and imperfect.

But, if truth be the essence of the poet's work, "the right describing
note to know a poet by", it would seem that the outward form of it,
the metre and the ornament, are of little moment. "There have been
many most excellent poets that never versified." And verse is nothing
more than a means, and not the only means, of securing a "fitting
raiment" for their matter and suiting their manner "according to the
dignity of their subject". In this suggestion--that harmonious prose
may, for certain forms of poetic thought, be hardly less suitable than
verse--Sidney is at one with Shelley. And neither critic must be taken
to disparage verse, or to mean more than that the matter, the
conception, is the soul of poetry, and that the form is only of moment
so far as it aids--as undoubtedly it does aid--to "reveal the soul
within". It is rather as a witness to the whole scope of their argument
than as a particular doctrine, to be left or taken, that the suggestion
is most profitably regarded.

Having settled the speculative base of poetry, Sidney turns to a yet
more cherished theme, its influence upon character and action. The
"highest end" of all knowledge, he urges, is "the knowledge of a man's
self, with the end of well doing and not of well knowing only". Now
by no artist is this end served so perfectly as by the poet. His only
serious rivals are the moral philosopher and the historian. But neither
of these flies so straight to his mark as the poet. The one gives
precepts that fire no heart to action; the other gives examples without
the precepts that should interpret and control them. The one lives in
the world of ideas, the other in the world of hard and literal fact.
Neither, therefore, has power to bridge the gulf that parts thought
from action; neither can hope to take hold of beings in whose life,
by its very nature, thought and action are indissolubly interwoven.
"Now doth the peerless poet perform both. For whatsoever the philosopher
saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it in some one,
by whom he presupposeth it was done. So as he coupleth the general
notion with the particular example .... Therein of all sciences is our
poet the monarch."

Once more we feel that Sidney is treading upon dangerous ground. But
once more he saves himself by giving a wider definition both to thought
and action, both to "well knowing and to well doing", than is common
with moralists. By the former most moralists are apt to understand the
bare "precept", thought as crystallized in its immediate bearing upon
action. By the latter they commonly mean the passive rather than the
active virtues, temperance and self-restraint rather than energy and
resolve. From both these limitations Sidney, on the whole, is nobly

To him the "delight which is all the good fellow poet seemeth to
promise", "the words set in delightful proportion and prepared for the
well enchanting skill of music", "the tale which holdeth children from
play and old men from the chimney corner"--all these, its indefinable
and purely artistic elements, are an inseparable part of the "wisdom"
which poetry has to offer. In other words, it is the frame of mind
produced by poetry, the "thought hardly to be packed into the narrow
act", no less than the prompting to this action or to that, which
Sidney values in the work of the poet. And if this be true, none but
the most fanatical champion of "art for art's sake" will dispute the
justice of his demands on poetry. None but such will deny that, whether
by attuning the mind to beauty and nobleness, or by means yet more
direct and obvious, art must have some bearing upon the life of man
and on the habitual temper of his soul. No doubt, we might have wished
that, in widening the scope of poetry as a moral influence, Sidney had
been yet more explicit than in fact he is. We cannot but regret that,
however unjustly, he should have laid himself open to the charge of
desiring to turn poetry into sermons. But it is bare justice to point
out that such a charge cannot fairly be brought against him; or that
it can only be brought with such qualifications as rob it of its sting.

On the other matter the record of Sidney is yet clearer. By "well
doing" he does not mean, as is too often meant, mere abstinence from
evil, but the active pursuit of whatsoever things are manly, noble,
and of good report. It is not only the "temperance of Diomedes"--
though temperance too may be conceived as an active virtue--but the
wisdom of Ulysses, the patriotism of Aneas, "the soon repenting pride
of Agamemnon", the valour of Achilles--it is courage, above all courage,
that stirs his soul in the great works of ancient poetry. It is the
same quality that moves him in the ballads and romances of the moderns.
"Certainly I must confess my own barbarousness; I never heard the old
song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than
with a trumpet." And again: "Truly I have known men that, even with
reading _Amadis de Gaule_ (which, God knoweth, wanteth much of a perfect
poesy), have found their hearts moved to the exercise of courtesy,
liberality, and especially courage." The man who wrote these words had
no starved conception of what poetry should be.

Once again. Sidney has small patience with those who would limit art
by the banishment of all that recalls the baser side of life. "Now,
as in geometry, the oblique must be known as well as the right. So in
the actions of our life, who seeth not the filthiness of evil, wanteth
a great foil to perceive the beauty of virtue. This doth the comedy
handle so ... as with hearing it we get, as it were, an experience....
So that the right use of comedy will, I think, by no body be blamed."
No doubt, the moral aspect of comedy is here marked with what must be
called immoderate stress. Here, too, as when he deals with the kindred
side of tragedy, Sidney demands that the poet shall, in his villains,
"show you nothing that is not to be shunned"; in other words, that,
so far as it paints evil, comedy shall take the form of satire.

But, even with this restriction, it must be allowed that Sidney takes
a wider view than might appear at a hasty reading; wider, it is
probable, than was at all common among the men of his generation. No
Shakespeare had yet arisen to touch the baser qualities of men with
a gleam of heroism or to humanize the most stoical endurance with a
strain of weakness. And even Shakespeare, in turning from the practice
to the theory of his art, could find no words very different from those
of Sidney. To him, as to Sidney, the aim of the drama is "to show
virtue her own image and scorn her own feature"; though by a saving
clause, which Sidney perhaps would hardly have accepted, it is further
defined as being to show "the very age and body of the time his form
and pressure". Yet it must be remembered that Sidney is loud in praise
of so unflinching a portraiture of life, base and noble, as Chaucer's
_Troilus and Cressida_. And on the whole it remains true that the
limitations of Sidney are the limitations of his age, while his
generosity is his own.

The remainder of the _Apologie_ is necessarily of slighter texture.
Apart from the examination of Plato's banishment of the poets--a theme
on which Harington also discourses, though with less weight than
Sidney--it is concerned mainly with two subjects: an assertion that
each form of poetry has its peculiar moral import, and a lament over
the decay into which English poetry had fallen in the sixteenth century.

Such a lament sounds strangely to us, accustomed as we are to regard
the age of Elizabeth, already half ended when Sidney wrote, as the
most fruitful period of our literature. But, when the _Apologie_ was
composed, no one of the authors by whose fame the Elizabethan age is
now commonly known--Sidney himself and Spenser alone excepted--had
begun to write. English poetry was about to wake from the long night
that lies between the age of Chaucer and the age of Shakespeare. But
it was not yet fully awakened. And the want of a full and free life
in creative art goes far to account for the shortcomings of Elizabethan

Vague the Elizabethan critics undeniably are; they tend to lose
themselves either in far-fetched analogies or in generalities that
have but a slight bearing upon the distinctive problems of literary
appreciation. When not vague, they are apt to fritter their strength
on technical details which, important to them, have long lost their
significance for the student of literature. But both technicalities
and vagueness may be largely traced to the uncertain practice of the
poets upon whom, in the first instance, their criticism was based. The
work of Surrey and of Sackville was tentative; that of Webbe and
Puttenham was necessarily the same. It is the more honour to Sidney
that, shackled as he was by conditions from which no man could escape
altogether, he should have struck a note at once so deep and so strong
as is sounded in the _Apologie_.

II. In turning from Sidney to Dryden we pass into a different world.
The philosophy, the moral fervour, the prophetic strain of the
Elizabethan critic have vanished. Their place is taken by qualities
less stirring in themselves, but more akin to those that modern times
have been apt to associate with criticism. In fact, whatever qualities
we now demand from a critic may be found at least foreshadowed, and
commonly much more than foreshadowed, in Dryden. Dryden is master of
comparative criticism: he has something of the historical method; he
is unrivalled in the art of seizing the distinctive qualities of his
author and of setting them before us with the lightest touch. His very
style, so pointed yet so easy, is enough in itself to mark the gulf
that lies between the age of Elizabeth and the age of the Restoration.
All the Elizabethan critics, Sidney himself hardly excepted, bore some
trace of the schoolmaster. Dryden was the first to meet his readers
entirely as an equal, and talk to them as a friend with friends. It
is Dryden, and not Sainte-Beuve, who is the true father of the literary
_causerie_; and he still remains its unequalled master. There may be
other methods of striking the right note in literary criticism. Lamb
showed that there may be; so did Mr. Pater. But few indeed are the
critics who have known how to attune the mind of the reader to a
subject, which beyond all others cries out for harmonious treatment,
so skilfully as Dryden.

That the first great critic should come with the Restoration, was only
to be expected. The age of Elizabeth was essentially a creative age.
The imagination of men was too busy to leave room for self-scrutiny.
Their thoughts took shape so rapidly that there was no time to think
about the manner of their coming. Not indeed that there is, as has
sometimes been urged, any inherent strife between the creative and the
critical spirit. A great poet, we can learn from Goethe and Coleridge,
may also be a great critic. More than that: without some touch of
poetry in himself, no man can hope to do more than hack-work as a
critic of others. Yet it may safely be said that, if no critical
tradition exists in a nation, it is not an age of passionate creation,
such as was that of Marlowe and Shakespeare, that will found it. With
all their alertness, with all their wide outlook, with all their zeal
for classical models, the men of that time were too much of children,
too much beneath the spell of their own genius, to be critics. Compare
them with the great writers of other ages; and we feel instinctively
that, in spite of their surroundings, they have far more of vital
kindred with Homer or the creators of the mediaval epic, than with the
Greek dramatists--Aschylus excepted--or with Dante or with Goethe. The
"freshness of the early world" is still upon them; neither they nor
their contemporaries were born to the task of weighing and pondering,
which is the birthright of the critic.

It was far otherwise with the men of the Restoration. The creative
impulse of a century had at length spent its force. For the first time
since Wyatt and Surrey, England deserted the great themes of literature,
the heroic passions of Tamburlaine and Faustus, of Lear and Othello,
for the trivial round of social portraiture and didactic discourse;
for _Essays on Satire_ and _on Translated Verse_, for the Tea-Table
of the _Spectator_, for dreary exercises on the _Pleasures of the
Imagination_ and the _Art of Preserving Health_. A new era had opened.
It was the day of small things.

Yet it would be wrong to regard the new movement as merely negative.
Had that been all, it would be impossible to account for the passionate
enthusiasm it aroused in those who came beneath its spell; an enthusiasm
which lived long after the movement itself was spent, and which--except
in so far as it led to absurd comparisons with the Elizabethans--was
abundantly justified by the genius of Butler and Dryden, of Congreve
and Swift and Pope. Negative, on one side, the ideal of Restoration
and Augustan poetry undoubtedly was. It was a reaction against the
"unchartered freedom", the real or fancied extravagances, of the
Elizabethan poets. But, on the higher side, it was no less positive,
though doubtless far less noble, than the ideal it displaced.

The great writers of the eighty years following the Restoration were
consumed by a passion for observation--observation of the men and
things that lay immediately around them. They may have seen but little;
but what they did see, they grasped with surprising force and clearness.
They may not have gone far beneath the surface; but, so far as they
went, their work was a model of acuteness and precision. This was the
secret of their power. To this may be traced their victory in the
various tasks that they undertook.

Hence, on the one hand, their success in painting the manners of their
own day--a task from which, with some notable exceptions, the greatest
of the Elizabethans had been apt to shrink, as from something alien
to their genius; and, on the other hand, the range and keenness of
their satire. Hence, finally, the originality of their work in
criticism, and their new departure in philosophy. The energies of these
men were diverse: but all sprang from the same root--from their
invincible resolve to see and understand their world; to probe life,
as they knew it, to the bottom.

Thus the new turn given to criticism by Dryden was part of a far-
reaching intellectual movement; a movement no less positive and self-
contained than, in another aspect, it was negative and reactionary.
And it is only when taken as part of that movement, as side by side
with the philosophy of Locke and the satire of Swift or Pope, that its
true meaning can be understood. Nor is it the least important or the
least attractive of Dryden's qualities, as a critic, that both the
positive and the negative elements of the prevailing tendency--both
the determination to understand and the wish to bring all things under
rule--should make themselves felt so strongly and, on the whole, so
harmoniously in his Essays. No man could have felt more keenly the
shortcomings of the Elizabethan writers. No man could have set greater
store by that "art of writing easily" which was the chief pride of the
Restoration poets. Yet no man has ever felt a juster admiration for
the great writers of the opposite school; and no man has expressed his
reverence for them in more glowing words. The highest eulogy that has
yet been passed on Milton, the most discriminating but at the same
time the most generous tribute that has ever been offered to
Shakespeare--both these are to be found in Dryden. And they are to be
found in company with a perception, at once reasoned and instinctive,
of what criticism means, that was altogether new to English literature.

The finest and most characteristic of Dryden's critical writings--but
it is unfortunately also the longest--is without doubt the _Essay of
Dramatic Poesy_. The subject was one peculiarly well suited to Dryden's
genius. It touched a burning question of the day, and it opened the
door for a discussion of the deeper principles of the drama. The _Essay_
itself forms part of a long controversy between Dryden and his
brother-in-law, Sir Robert Howard. The dispute was opened by Dryden's
preface to his tragi-comedy, _The Rival Ladies_, published probably,
as it was certainly first acted, in 1664; and in the beginning Dryden,
then first rising [Footnote: "To a play at the King's house, _The Rival
Ladies_, a very innocent and most pretty witty play"--is Pepys' entry
for August 4, 1664: _Diary_, ii. 155. Contrast his contemptuous
description of Dryden's first comedy, _The Wild Gallant_, in the
preceding year (Feb. 23)--"So poor a thing as I never saw in my life
almost".--_Ib_., i. 390.] into fame as a dramatist, confines himself
to pleading the cause of rhyme against blank verse in dramatic writing.
[Footnote: Tragedy alone is mentioned by name [_English Garner_, in.
490, 491]. But, from the general drift of the argument, it seems
probable that Dryden was speaking of the drama in general. At a later
stage of the dispute, however, he distinguishes between tragedy and
comedy, and allows that the arguments in favour of rhyme apply only
to the former--a curious inversion of the truth, as it would appear
to the modern mind.--_Ib_., pp. 561, 566.] Howard--who, it may
reasonably be guessed, had had some brushes with Dryden over their
joint tragedy, _The Indian Queen_--at once took up the cudgels. He had
written rhymed plays himself, it is true; the four plays, to which his
attack on rhyme was prefixed, were such; but he saw a chance of paying
off old scores against his brother-in-law, and he could not resist it.
Dryden began his reply at once; but three years passed before it was
published. And the world has no reason to regret his tardiness. There
are few writings of which we can say with greater certainty, as Dryden
himself said of a more questionable achievement,

  'T is not the hasty product of a day,
  But the well-ripened fruit of wise delay.

The very form of the _Essay_ bears witness to the spirit in which it
is written. It is cast as a dialogue, "related"--as Dryden truly
says--"without passion or interest, and leaving the reader to decide
in favour of which part he shall judge most reasonable". The balance
between opposing views is held as evenly as may be. It is a search for
truth, carried out in the "rude and undigested manner" of a friendly
conversation. Roughly speaking, the subjects of the _Essay_ are two.
The first, and the more slightly treated, is the quarrel of rhyme
against blank verse. The second is the far more important question,
How far is the dramatist bound by conventional restrictions? The
former--a revival under a new form of a dispute already waged by the
Elizabethans--leads Dryden to sift the claims of the "heroic drama";
and his treatment of it has the special charm belonging to an author's
defence of his artistic hearth and home. The latter is a theme which,
under some shape or other, will be with us wherever the stage itself
has a place in our life.

This is not the place to discuss at length the origin or the historical
justification of the Heroic Drama. There is perhaps no form of art
that so clearly marks the transition from the Elizabethan age to that
of the Restoration. Transitional it must certainly be called; for, in
all vital points, it stands curiously apart from the other forms of
Restoration literature. It has nothing either of the negative or the
positive qualities, nothing of the close observation and nothing of
the measure and self-restraint, that all feel to be the distinctive
marks of the Restoration temper. On the other hand the heroic drama,
of which Dryden's _Conquest of Granada_ and _Tyrannic Love_ may be
taken as fair samples, has obvious affinities with the more questionable
side of the Elizabethan stage. It may be defined as wanting in all the
virtues and as exaggerating all the vices of the Elizabethan dramatists.
Whatever was most wild in the wildest of the Elizabethan plays--the
involved plots, the extravagant incidents, the swelling metaphors and
similes--all this reappears in the heroic drama. And it reappears
without any of the dramatic force or of the splendid poetry which are
seldom entirely absent from the work of the Elizabethan and Jacobean
dramatists. The term "heroic drama" is, in fact, a fraud. The plays
of Dryden and his school are at best but moc-heroic; and they are
essentially undramatic. The truth is that these plays take something
of the same place in the history of the English drama that is held by
the verse of Donne and Cowley in the history of the English lyric. The
extravagant incidents correspond to the far-fetched conceits which,
unjustly enough, made the name of Donne a by-word with the critics
of the last century. The metaphors and similes are as abundant and
overcharged, though assuredly not so rich in imagination, as those of
the "metaphysical" poets. And Dryden, if we may accept the admission
of Bayes, "loved argument in verse"; a confession that Donne and Cowley
would heartily have echoed. The exaggerations of the heroic drama are
the exaggerations of the metaphysical poets transferred from the study
to the stage; with the extravagance deepened, as was natural, by the
glare of their new surroundings. And, just as the extravagance of the
"metaphysicians" led to the reaction that for a hundred years stifled
the lyric note in English song, so the extravagance of the heroic drama
gave the death-blow to English tragedy.

Against this parallel the objection may be raised that it takes no
reckoning of the enormous gulf that, when all is said, separates even
the weakest of the Elizabethan plays from the rant and fustian of
Dryden: a gulf wider, it must be admitted, than that which parts the
metaphysical poets from the "singing birds" of the Elizabethan era.
And, so far as we have yet gone, the objection undoubtedly has force.
It is only to be met if we can find some connecting link; if we can
point to some author who, on the one hand, retains something of the
dramatic instinct, the grace and flexibility of the Elizabethans; and,
on the other hand, anticipates the metallic ring, the declamation and
the theatrical conventions of Dryden. Such an author is to be found
in Shirley; in Shirley, as he became in his later years; at the time,
for instance, when he wrote _The Cardinal_ (1641). _The Cardinal_ is,
in many respects, a powerful play. It is unmistakably written under
the influence of Webster; and of Webster at his most sombre and his
best--the Webster of the _Duchess of Malfi_. But it is no less
unmistakably wanting in the subtle strength, the dramatic grip and
profound poetry, of its model. The villainy of the Cardinal is mere
mechanism beside the satanic, yet horribly human, iniquity of Ferdinand
and Bosolo. And, at least in one scene, Shirley sinks--it is true, in
the person of a subordinate character--to a foul-mouthed vulgarity
which recalls the shameless bombast of the heroes and heroines of
Dryden. [Footnote:

  I would this soldier had the Cardinal
  Upon a promontory; with what a spring
  The churchman would leap down! It were a spectacle
  Most rare to see him topple from the precipice,
  And souse in the salt water with a noise
  To stun the fishes. And if he fell into
  A net, what wonder would the simple sea-gulls
  Have to draw up the o'ergrown lobster,
  So ready boiled! He shall have my good wishes.
                     --_The Cardinal_, act v. sc, 2.]

Yet, with all his shortcomings, Shirley preserves in the main the great
tradition of the Elizabethans. A further step downwards, a more deadly
stage in the history of decadence, is marked by Sir William Davenant.
That arch-impostor, as is well known, had the effrontery to call himself
the "son of Shakespeare": a phrase which the unwary have taken in the
physical sense, but which was undoubtedly intended to mark his literary
kinship with the Elizabethans in general and with the greatest of
Elizabethan dramatists in particular.

So far as dates go, indeed, the work of Davenant may be admitted to
fall within what we loosely call the Elizabethan period; or, more
strictly, within the last stage of the period that began with Elizabeth
and continued throughout the reigns of her two successors. His first
tragedy, _Albovine, King of the Lombards_, was brought out in 1629;
and his earlier work was therefore contemporary with that of Massinger
and Ford. But much beyond this his relation to the Elizabethans can
hardly claim to go. Charity may allow him some faint and occasional
traces of the dramatic power which is their peculiar glory; and this
is perhaps more strongly marked in his earliest play than in any of
its successors. What strikes us most forcibly, however--and that, even
in his more youthful work--is the obvious anticipation of much that
we associate only with the Restoration period. The historical plot,
the metallic ring of the verse,

[Footnote: I take two instances from _Albovine_.--

    (1) Let all glad hymns in one mix'd concord sound,
        And make the echoing heavens your mirth rebound.--Act i.

    (2) I am the broom of heaven; when the world grows foul,
        I'll sweep the nations into the sea, like dust.--Act ii.

It is noticeable that both passages are spoken by Albovine himself,
a very creditable elder brother of Dryden's Maximin and Almanzor. One
more passage may be quoted, from the _Just Italian_ (1630):--

    The sacred noise attend that, whilst we hear,
    Our souls may dance into each others' ear.--Act v.

It will be observed that two out of the above passages, coming at the
end of scenes, are actually in rhyme, and rhyme which is hardly
distinguishable from that of Dryden.] the fustian and the bombast--
we have here every mark, save one, of what afterwards came to be known
as the heroic drama. The rhymed couplet alone is wanting. And that was
added by Davenant himself at a later stage of his career. It was in
_The Siege of Rhodes_, of which the first part was published in 1656,
that the heroic couplet, after an interval of about sixty years, made
its first reappearance on the English stage. It was garnished, no
doubt, with much of what then passed for Pindaric lyric; it was eked
out with music. But the fashion was set; and within ten years the
heroic couplet and the heroic drama had swept everything before them.
[Footnote: A few lines may be quoted to make good the above description
of _The Siege of Rhodes_:--

  What various voices do mine ears invade
  And have a concert of confusion made?
  The shriller trumpet and tempestuous drum,
  The deafening clamour from the cannon's womb.
                     --Part i. First _Entry_.

The following lines from part ii. (published in 1662) might have been
signed by Dryden:--

  No arguments by forms of senate made
  Can magisterial jealousy persuade;
  It takes no counsel, nor will be in awe
  Of reason's force, necessity, or law.

Or, again,

  Honour's the soul which nought but guilt can wound,
  Fame is the trumpet which the people sound.]

The above dates are enough to disprove the common belief that the
heroic drama, rhymed couplet and all, was imported from France.
_Albovine_, as we have seen, has every mark of the heroic drama, except
the couplet; and _Albovine_ was written seven years before the first
masterpiece of Corneille, one year before his first attempt at tragedy.
A superficial likeness to the drama of Corneille and, subsequently,
of Racine may doubtless have given wings to the popularity of the new
style both with Davenant and his admirers. But the heroic drama is,
in truth, a native growth: for good or for evil, to England alone must
be given the credit of its birth. Dryden, no doubt, more than once
claims French descent for the literary form with which his fame was
then bound up. [Footnote: He is, however, as explicit as could be
wished in tracing the descent _through_ Davenant. "For Heroick Plays
... the first light we had of them on the English theatre was from the
late Sir W. Davenant. He heightened his characters, as I may probably
imagine, from the example of Corneille and some French Poets."--_Of
Heroic Plays_, printed as preface to _The Conquest of Granada, Dramatic
Works_ (fol.), i. 381. It was for this reason that Davenant was taken
as the original hero of that burlesque masterpiece, _The Rehearsal_
(1671); and even when the part of Bayes was transferred to Dryden, the
make-up still remained largely that of Davenant.] In a well-known
prologue he describes his tragic-comedy, _The Maiden Queen_, as

    a mingled chime
    Of Jonson's humour and
    Corneille's rhyme.
[Footnote: The greater part of _The Maiden Queen_, however, is
written either in prose or in blank verse.]

But the fact is that of Corneille there is no more trace in Dryden's
tragedy than there is of Jonson in his comedy; that is, just none at
all. The heroic temper, which was at once the essence of Corneille's
plays and true to the very soul of the man, was mere affectation and
_mise-en-scene_ with Dryden. The heroes of Corneille reflect that
nobility of spirit which never entirely forsook France till the days
of the Regency; those of Dryden give utterance to nothing better than
the insolent swagger of the Restoration.

To the peculiar spirit of the heroic drama--to its strength as well
as to its weakness--no metrical form could have been more closely
adapted than the heroic couplet. It was neither flexible nor delicate;
but in the hands of Dryden, even more than in those of Davenant, it
became an incomparably vigorous and effective weapon of declamation.
As the most unmistakable and the most glaring mark of the new method
it was naturally placed in the forefront of the battle waged by Dryden
in defence of the heroic drama. It seems, indeed, to have struck him
as the strongest advantage possessed by the Restoration drama over the
Elizabethan, and as that which alone was wanting to place the
Elizabethan drama far ahead both of the Greek and of the French.

The claims of rhyme to Dryden's regard would seem to have been twofold.
On the one hand, he thought that it served to "bound and circumscribe"
the luxuriance of the poet's fancy. [Footnote: Dedication to _The Rival
Ladies_: _English Garner_, iii. 492.] On the other hand, it went to
"heighten" the purely dramatic element and to "move that admiration
which is the delight of serious plays" and to which "a bare imitation"
will not suffice. [Footnote: _Essay of Dramatic Poesy_: ib. 582] Both
grounds of defence will seem to the modern reader questionable enough.
Howard at once laid his finger upon the weak spot of the first. "It
is", he said, "no argument for the matter in hand. For the dispute is
not what way a man may write best in; but which is most proper for the
subject he writes upon. And, if this were let pass, the argument is
yet unsolved in itself; for he that wants judgment in the liberty of
his fancy may as well shew the want of it in its confinement."
[Footnote: _Preface to Four New Plays_: ib. 498.] Besides, he adds in
effect on the next page, so far from "confining the fancy" rhyme is
apt to lead to turgid and stilted writing.

The second argument stands on higher ground. It amounts to a plea for
the need of idealization; and, so far, may serve to remind us that the
extravagances of the heroic drama had their stronger, as well as their
weaker, side. No one, however, will now be willing to admit that the
cause of dramatic idealization is indeed bound up with the heroic
couplet; and a moment's thought will show the fallacy of Dryden's
assumption that it is. In the first place, he takes for granted that,
the further the language of the drama is removed from that of actual
life, the nearer the spirit of it will approach to the ideal. An
unwarrantable assumption, if there ever was one; and an assumption,
as will be seen, that contains the seeds of the whole eighteenth-century
theory of poetic diction. In the second place--but this is, in truth,
only the deeper aspect of the former plea--Dryden comes perilously
near to an acceptance of the doctrine that idealization in a work of
art depends purely on the outward form and has little or nothing to
do with the conception or the spirit. The bond between form and matter
would, according to this view, be purely arbitrary. By a mere turn of
the hand, by the substitution of rhyme for prose--or for blank verse,
which is on more than "measured" or harmonious prose--the baldest
presentment of life could be converted into a dramatic poem. From the
grosser forms of this fallacy Dryden's fine sense was enough to save
him. Indeed, in the remarks on Jonson's comedies that immediately
follow, he expressly rejects them; and seldom does he show a more
nicely balanced judgment than in what he there says on the limits of
imitation in the field of art. But in the passage before us--in his
assertion that "the converse must be heightened with all the arts and
ornaments of poetry"--it is hard to resist a vision of the dramatist
first writing his dialogue in bald and skimble-skamble prose, and then
wringing his brains to adorn it "with all the arts" of the dramatic
_gradus_. Here again we have the seeds of the fatal theory which
dominated the criticism and perverted the art of the eighteenth century;
the theory which, finding in outward form the only distinction between
prose and poetry, was logically led to look for the special themes of
poetic art in the dissecting-room or the pulpit, and was driven to
mark the difference by an outrageous diction that could only be called
poetry on the principle that it certainly was not prose; the theory
which at length received its death-blow from the joint attack of
Wordsworth and Coleridge.

It remains only to note the practical issue of the battle of the metres.
In the drama the triumph of the heroic couplet was for the moment
complete; but it was short-lived. By 1675, the date of _Aurungzebe_,
Dryden proclaimed himself already about to "weary of his long-loved
mistress, Rhyme"; and his subsequent plays were all written in blank
verse or prose. But the desertion of "his mistress" brought him little
luck; and the rest of his tragedies show a marked falling off in that
splendid vigour which went far to redeem even the grossest absurdities
of his heroic plays. A more sensitive, though a weaker, genius joined
him in the rejection of rhyme; and the example of Otway--whose two
crucial plays belong to 1680 and 1682--did perhaps more than that of
Dryden himself, more even than the assaults of _The Rehearsal_, to
discredit the heroic drama. With the appearance of _Venice Preserved_,
rhyme ceased to play any part in English tragedy. But at the same time,
it must be noted, tragedy itself began to drop from the place which
for the last century it had held in English life. From that day to
this no acting tragedy, worth serious attention, has been written for
the English stage.

The reaction against rhyme was not confined to the drama. The epic,
indeed--or what in those days passed for such--can hardly be said to
have come within its scope. In the _Essay of Dramatic Poesy_ Dryden--and
this is one of the few judgments in which Howard heartily agrees with
him--had denounced rhyme as "too low for a poem"; [Footnote: _English
Garner_, iii. p. 567.] by which, as the context shows, is meant an
epic. This was written the very year in which _Paradise Lost_, with
its laconic sneer at rhyme as a device "to set off wretched matter and
lame metre", was given to the world. That, however, did not prevent
Dryden from asking, and obtaining, leave to "tag its verses" into an
opera; [Footnote: The following will serve as a sample of Dryden's
improvements on his model:--

  Seraph and Cherub, careless of their charge
  And wanton in full ease, now live at large,
  Unguarded leave the passes of the sky,
  And all dissolved in Hallelujahs lie.
              --_Dramatic Works_, i. p. 596.]

nor did it deter Blackmore--and, at a much later time, Wilkie [Footnote:
Blackmore's _King Arthur_ was published in 1695; Wilkie's
_Epigoniad_--the subject of a patriotic puff from Hume--in 1757.]--from
reverting to the metre that Milton had scorned to touch. It is not
till the present century that blank verse can be said to have fairly
taken seisin of the epic; one of the many services that English poetry
owes to the genius of Keats.

In the more nondescript kinds of poetry, however, the revolt against
rhyme spread faster than in the epic. In descriptive and didactic
poetry, if anywhere, rhyme might reasonably claim to hold its place.
There is much to be said for the opinion that, in such subjects, rhyme
is necessary to fix the wandering attention of the reader. Yet, for
all that, the great efforts of the reflective muse during the next
century were, with hardly an exception, in blank verse. It is enough
to recall the _Seasons_ of Thomson, the discourses of Akenside and
Armstrong, and the _Night Thoughts_ of the arch-moralist Young.
[Footnote: It may be noted that Young's blank verse has constantly the
run of the heroic couplet.] In the case of Young--as later in that of
Cowper--this is the more remarkable, because his Satires show him to
have had complete command of the mechanism of the heroic couplet. That
he should have deliberately chosen the rival metre is proof--a proof
which even the exquisite work of Goldsmith is not sufficient to
gainsay--that, by the middle of the eighteenth century the heroic
couplet had been virtually driven from every field of poetry, save
that of satire.

We may now turn to the second of the two themes with which Dryden is
mainly occupied in the _Essay of Dramatic Poesy_. What are the
conventional restrictions that surround the dramatist, and how far are
they of binding force?

That the drama is by nature a convention--more than this, a convention
accepted largely with a view to the need of idealization--the men of
Dryden's day were in no danger of forgetting. The peril with them was
all the other way. The fashion of that age was to treat the arbitrary
usages of the classical theatre as though they were binding for all
time. Thus, of the four men who take part in the dialogue of the
_Essay_, three are emphatically agreed in bowing down before the three
unities as laws of nature. Dryden himself (Neander) is alone in
questioning their divinity: a memorable proof of his critical
independence; but one in which, as he maliciously points out, he was
supported by the greatest of living dramatists. Corneille could not
be suspected of any personal motive for undertaking the defence of
dramatic license. Yet he closed his _Discourse of the Three Unities_
with the admission that he had "learnt by experience how much the
French stage was constrained and bound up by the observance of these
rules, and how many beauties it had sacrificed". [Footnote: Il est
facile aux speculatifs d'etre severes; mais, s'ils voulaient donner
dix ou douze poemes de cette nature au public, ils elargiraient
peut-etre les regles encore plus que je ne sais, si tot qu'ils auraient
reconnu par l'experience quelle contrainte apporte leur exactitude et
combien de belles choses elle bannit de notre theatre--_Troisieme
Discours Euvres_, xii. 326. See Dryden's Essay _English Garner_, iii
546. On the next page is a happy hit at the shifts to which dramatists
were driven in their efforts to keep up the appearance of obedience
to the Unity of Place: "The street, the window, the two houses and the
closet are made to walk about, and the persons to stand still."] When
the two leading masters of the 'Classical Drama', the French and the
English, joined hands to cast doubt upon the sacred unities, its
opponents might well feel easy as to the ultimate issue of the dispute.

Dryden was not the man to bound his argument by any technical question,
even when it touched a point so fundamental as the unities. Nothing
is more remarkable in the _Essay_, as indeed in all his critical work,
than the wide range which he gives to the discussion. And never has
the case against--we can hardly add, for--the French drama been stated
more pointedly than by him. His main charge, as was to be expected,
is against its monotony, and, in close connection with that, against
its neglect of action and its preference for declamation.

Having defined the drama as "a just and lively image of human nature,
in its actions, passions and traverses of fortune", [Footnote: _English
Garner_, iii 513, ib. 567] he proceeds to test the claims of the French
stage by that standard. Its characters, he finds, are wanting in variety
and nature. Its range of passion and humour is lamentably narrow.
[Footnote: Ib. 542-4.] Its declamations "tire us with their length;
so that, instead of grieving for their imaginary heroes, we are
concerned for our own trouble, as we are in the tedious visits of bad
company; we are in pain till they are gone". [Footnote: English Garner,
iil 542.] The best tragedies of the French--_Cinna and Pompey_--"are
not so properly to be called Plays as long discourses of Reason of
State". [Footnote: Ib. 543.] Upon their avoidance of action he is
hardly less severe. "If we are to be blamed for showing too much of
the action"--one is involuntarily reminded of the closing scene of
_Tyrannic Love_ and of the gibes in _The Rehearsal_--"the French are
as faulty for discovering too little of it ". [Footnote: Ib. 545.]
Finally, on a comparison between the French dramatists and the
Elizabethans, Dryden concludes that "in most of the irregular Plays
of Shakespeare or Fletcher ... there is a more masculine fancy, and
greater spirit in all the writing, than there is in any of the French".
[Footnote: Ib. 548.]

Given the definition with which he starts--but it is a definition that
no Frenchman of the seventeenth or eighteenth century would have
admitted--it is hard to see how Dryden could have reached a
substantially different result. Nor, if comparisons of this sort are
to be made at all, is there much--so far, at least, as Shakespeare is
concerned--to find fault with in the verdict with which he closes. Yet
it is impossible not to regret that Dryden should have failed to
recognize the finer spirit and essence of French tragedy, as conceived
by Corneille: the strong-tempered heroism of soul, the keen sense of
honour, the consuming fire of religion, to which it gives utterance.

The truth is that Dryden stood at once too near, and too far from, the
ideals of Corneille to appreciate them altogether at their just value.
Too near because he instinctively associated them with the heroic
drama, which at the bottom of his heart he knew to be no better than
an organized trick, done daily with a view to "elevate and surprise".
Too far, because, in spite of his own candid and generous temper, it
was well-nigh impossible for the Laureate of the Restoration to
comprehend the highly strung nature of a man like Corneille, and his
intense realization of the ideal.

But, if Dryden is blind to the essential qualities of Corneille, he
is at least keenly alive to those of Shakespeare. It is a memorable
thing that the most splendid tribute ever offered to the prince of
Elizabethans should have come from the leading spirit of the
Restoration. It has often been quoted, but it will bear quoting once

"Shakespeare was the man who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets,
had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature
were still present to him; and he drew them not laboriously, but
luckily. When he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel
it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning give him the great
commendation. He was naturally learned. He needed not the spectacles
of books to read nature; he looked inwards and found her there. I
cannot say he is everywhere alike. Were he so, I should do him injury
to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat,
insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling
into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is
presented to him. No man can say, he ever had a fit subject for his
wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,

    Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi."
[Footnote: _Essay of Dramatic Poesy_. _English Garner_, iii. 549.]

The same keenness of appreciation is found in Dryden's estimate of
other writers who might have seemed to lie beyond the field of his
immediate vision. Of Milton he is recorded to have said: "He cuts us
all out, and the ancients too". [Footnote: The anecdote is recorded
by Richardson, who says the above words were written on the copy of
_Paradise Lost_ sent by Dorset to Milton. Dryden, _Poetic Works_, p.
161. Comp. _Dramatic Works_, i. 590; _Discourse on Satire_, p. 386.]
On Chaucer he is yet more explicit. "As he is the father of English
poetry, so I hold him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians
held Homer, or the Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good
sense; learned in all sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all
subjects. As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off,
a continence which is practised by few writers, and scarcely by any
of the ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace ... Chaucer followed
nature everywhere, but was never so bold to go beyond her." [Footnote:
See _Preface to Fables_, below.]

This points to what was undoubtedly the most shining quality of Dryden,
as a critic: his absolute freedom from preconceived notions, his
readiness to "follow nature" and to welcome nature in whatever form
she might appear. That was the more remarkable because it ran directly
counter both to the general spirit of the period to which he belonged
and to the prevailing practice of the critics who surrounded him. The
spirit of the Restoration age was critical in the invidious, no less
than in the nobler, sense of the word. It was an age of narrow ideals
and of little ability to look beyond them. In particular, it was an
age of carping and of fault-finding; an age within measurable distance
of the pedantic system perfected in France by Boileau, [Footnote:
Boileau's _Art Poetique_ was published in 1674. A translation made by
Soame, with the aid of Dryden, was published in 1683.] and warmly
adopted by a long line of English critics from Roscoromon and
Buckinghamshire to the Monthly Reviewers and to Johnson. Such writers
might always have "nature" on their lips; but it was nature seen through
the windows of the lecture room or down the vista of a street.

With Dryden it was not so. With him we never fail to get an unbiassed
judgment; the judgment of one who did not crave for nature "to advantage
dressed", but trusted to the instinctive freshness of a mind, one of
the most alert and open that ever gave themselves to literature. It
is this that puts an impassable barrier between Dryden and the men of
his own day, or for a century to come. It is this that gives him a
place among the great critics of modern literature, and makes the
passage from him to the schoolmen of the next century so dreary a

Dryden's openness of mind was his own secret. The comparative method
was, in some measure, the common property of his generation. This, in
fact, was the chief conquest of the Restoration and Augustan critics.
It is the mark that serves to distinguish them most clearly from those
of the Elizabethan age. Not that the Elizabethans are without
comparisons; but that the parallels they saw were commonly of the
simplest, not to say of the most childish, cast. Every sentence of
Meres' critical effort--or, to be rigorously exact, every sentence but
one--is built on "as" and "so"; but it reads like a parody--a
schoolmaster's parody--of Touchstone's improvement on Orlando's verses
in praise of Rosalind. Shakespeare is brought into line with Ovid,
Elizabeth with Achilles, and Homer with William Warner. This, no doubt,
is an extreme instance; but it is typical of the artless methods dear
to the infancy of criticism. In Jonson's _Discoveries_, such comparisons
as there are have indisputable point; but they are few, and, for the
most part, they are limited to the minuter matters of style.

It is with the Restoration that the comparative method first made its
way into English criticism; and that both in its lawful and less lawful
use. The distinction must be jealously made; for there are few matters
that lend themselves so readily to confusion and misapprehension as
this. Between two men, or two forms of art, a comparison may be run
either for the sake of placing the one above the head of the other,
or for the sake of drawing out the essential differences between the
one and the other. The latter method is indispensable to the work of
the critic. Without reference, express or implied, to other types of
genius or to other ways of treatment it is impossible for criticism
to take a single step in definition either of an author, or a movement,
or a form of art. In a vague and haphazard fashion, even the
Elizabethans were comparative. Meres was so in his endless stream of
classical parallels; Sidney, after a loftier strain, in his defence
of harmonious prose as a form of poetry. And it is the highest
achievement of modern criticism to have brought science and order into
the comparative method, and largely to have widened its scope. In this
sense, comparison _is_ criticism; and to compare with increased
intelligence, with a clearer consciousness of the end in view, is to
reform criticism itself, to make it a keener weapon and more effective
for its purpose.

A comparison of qualities, however, is one thing, and a comparison
between different degrees of merit is quite another. The former is the
essence of criticism; the latter, one of the most futile pastimes that
can readily be imagined. That each man should have his own preferences
is right enough. It would be a nerveless and unprofitable mind to which
such preferences were unknown. More than that, some rough
classification, some understanding with oneself as to what authors are
to be reckoned supreme masters of their craft, is hardly to be avoided.
The mere fact that the critic lays stress on certain writers and
dismisses others with scant notice or none at all, implies that in
some sense he has formed an estimate of their relative merits. But to
drag this process from the background--if we ought not rather to say,
from behind the scenes--to the very foot-lights, to publish it, to
insist upon it, is as irrelevant as it would be for the historian--
and he, too, must make his own perspective--to explain why he has
recorded some events and left others altogether unnoticed. All this
is work for the dark room; it should leave no trace, or as little as
may be, upon the finished picture. Criticism has suffered from few
things so much as from its incurable habit of granting degrees in
poetry with honours. "The highest art", it has been well said, "is the
region of equals."

It must be admitted that the Restoration critics had an immoderate
passion for classing authors according to their supposed rank in the
scale of literary desert. A glance at _The Battle of the Books_--a
faint reflection of the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns--is
enough to place this beyond dispute. Dryden himself is probably as
guilty as any in this matter. His parallel between Juvenal and Horace,
his comparison of Homer with Virgil, are largely of the nature of an
attempt to show each poet to his proper place, to determine their due
order of precedence in the House of Fame. In the early days of criticism
this was perhaps to be expected. Men were feeling their way to the
principles; and the shortest road might naturally seem to lie through
a comparative table of the men. They were right in thinking that the
first step was to ascertain what qualities, and what modes of treatment,
give lasting pleasure in poetry; and, to do this, they could not but
turn to compare the works of individual poets. But they were wrong in
supposing that they could learn anything by striking the balance between
the merits of one poet, as a sum total, and the merits of another.

The fault was, no doubt, largely in the Restoration critics themselves;
and it is a fault which, so long as the competitive instinct holds
sway with men, will never be entirely unknown. But its hold on the men
of Dryden's day was in great measure due to the influence of the French
critics, and to the narrow lines which criticism had taken in France.
No one can read Boileau's _Art Poetique_, no one can compare it with
the corresponding _Essay_ of Pope, without feeling that the purely
personal element had eaten into the heart of French criticism to a
degree which could never have been natural in England, and which, even
in the darkest days of English literature, has seldom been approached.
But at the same time it will be felt that never has England come nearer
to a merely personal treatment of artistic questions than in the century
between Dryden and Johnson; and that it was here, rather than in the
adoption of any specific form of literature--rather, for instance,
than in the growth of the heroic drama--that the influence of France
is to be traced.

Side by side, however, with the baser sort of comparisons, we find in
the Restoration critics no small use of the kind that profits and
delights. Rymer's _Remarks on the Tragedies of the Former Age_ are an
instance of the comparative method, in its just sense, as employed by
a man of talent. The essays of Dryden abound in passages of this nature,
that could only have been written by a man of genius. They may have
a touch of the desire to set one form of art, or one particular poet,
in array against another. But, when all abatements have been made,
they remain unrivalled samples of the manner in which the comparative
vein can be worked by a master spirit. To the student of English
literature they have a further interest--notably, perhaps, the
comparison between Juvenal and Horace and the eulogy of Shakespeare--as
being among the most striking examples of that change from the Latinized
style of the early Stuart writers to the short, pointed sentence
commonly associated with French; the change that was inaugurated by
Hobbes, but only brought to completion by Dryden.

Once again. As Dryden was among the earliest to give the comparative
method its due place in English criticism, so he was the first to make
systematic use of the historical method. Daniel, indeed, in a remarkable
essay belonging to the early years of the century, had employed that
method in a vague and partial manner. [Footnote: _A Defence of Ryme_
(1603). It was written in answer to a pamphlet by Campion (1602), of
which the second chapter "declares the unaptness of Rime in
Poesie".--Ancient Critical Essays, ii. t64, &c.] He had defended rhyme
on the score of its popularity with all ages and all nations. Celts,
Slavs, and Huns--Parthians and Medes and Elamites--are all pressed
into the service. [Footnote: "The Turks, Slavonians, Arabians,
Muscovites, Polacks, Hungarians ... use no other harmony of words. The
Irish, Britons, Scots, Danes, Saxons, English, and all the inhabiters
of this island either have hither brought, or here found the same in
use."--Ib. p. 198.] That is, perhaps, the first instance in which
English criticism can be said to have attempted tracing a literary
form through the various stages of its growth. But Daniel wrote without
system and without accuracy. It was reserved for Dryden--avowedly
following in the steps of the French critic Dacier--to introduce the
order and the fulness of knowledge--in Dryden's case, it must be
admitted, a knowledge at second hand--which are indispensable to a
fruitful use of the historical method. In this sense, too--as in his
use of the comparative method, as in the singular grace and aptness
of his style--Dryden was a pioneer in the field of English criticism.

III. Over the century that parts Dryden from Johnson it is not well
to linger. During that time criticism must be said, on the whole, to
have gone back rather than to have advanced. With some reservations
to be noticed later, the critics of the eighteenth century are a
depressing study. Their conception of the art they professed was barren;
their judgments of men and things were lamentably narrow. The more
valuable elements traceable in the work of Dryden--the comparative and
the historical treatment--disappear or fall into the background. We
are left with little but the futile exaltation of one poet at the
expense of his rivals, or the still more futile insistence upon faults,
shortcomings, and absurdities. The _Dunciad_, the most marked critical
work of the period, may be defended on the ground that it _is_ the
Dunciad; a war waged by genius upon the fool, the pedant, and the
fribble. But, none the less, it had a disastrous influence upon English
criticism and English taste. It gave sanction to the habit of
indiscriminate abuse; it encouraged the purely personal treatment of
critical discussions. Its effects may be traced on writers even of
such force as Smollett; of such genius and natural kindliness as
Goldsmith. But it was on Johnson that Pope's influence made itself
most keenly felt. And _The Lives of the Poets_, though not written
till the movement that gave it birth had spent its force, is the most
complete and the most typical record of the tendencies that shaped
English literature and gave the law to English taste from the
Restoration to the French Revolution: a notable instance of the fact
so often observed, and by some raised to the dignity of a general law,
that both in philosophy and in art, the work of the critic does not
commonly begin till the creative impulse of a given period is exhausted.

What, then, was Johnson's method? and what its practical application?
The method is nothing if not magisterial. It takes for granted certain
fixed laws--whether the laws formulated by Aristotle, or by Horace,
or the French critics, is for the moment beside the question--and
passes sentence on every work of art according as it conforms to the
critical decalogue or transgresses it. The fault of this method is
not, as is sometimes supposed, that it assumes principles in a subject
where none are to be sought; but that its principles are built on a
miserably narrow and perverted basis. That there are principles of
criticism, that the artist's search for beauty must be guided by some
idea, is obvious enough. It can be questioned only by those who are
prepared to deny the very possibility of criticism; who would reduce
the task both of critic and of artist to a mere record of individual
impressions. It need hardly be said that the very men who are most
ready to profess such a doctrine with their lips, persistently, and
rightly, give the lie to it in their deeds. No creative work, no
critical judgment, either is or can be put forward as a mere impression;
it is the impression of a trained mind--that is, of a mind which,
instinctively or as a conscious process, is guided by principles or

So far, then, as he may be held to have borne witness to the need of
ideas, Johnson was clearly in the right. It was when he came to ask,
What is the nature of those ideas, and how does the artist or the
critic arrive at them? that he began to go astray. Throughout he assumes
that the principles of art--and that, not only in their general bearing
(proportion, harmony, and the like), but in their minuter details-are
fixed and invariable. To him they form a kind of case-law, which is
to be extracted by the learned from the works of a certain number of
"correct writers", ancient and modern; and which, once established,
is binding for all time both on the critic and on those he summons to
his bar. In effect, this was to declare that beauty can be conceived
in no other way than as it presented itself, say, to Virgil or to Pope.
It was to lay the dead hand of the past upon the present and the future.

More than this. The models that lent themselves to be models, after
the kind desired by Johnson, were inevitably just those it was most
cramping and least inspiring to follow. They were the men who themselves
wrote, to some degree, by rule; in whom "correctness" was stronger
than inspiration; who, however admirable in their own achievement,
were lacking in the nobler and subtler qualities of the poet. They
were not the Greeks; not even, at first hand, the Latins; though the
names both of Greek and Latin were often on Johnson's lips. They were
rather the Latins as filtered through the English poets of the preceding
century; the Latins in so far as they had appealed to the writers of
the "Augustan age", but no further; the Latins, as masters of satire,
of declamation, and of the lighter kinds of verse. It was Latin poetry
without Lucretius and Catullus, without the odes of Horace, without
the higher strain of the genius of Virgil. In other words, it was
poetry as conceived by Boileau or Addison-or Mr. Smith. [Footnote: See
Johnson's extravagant eulogy of this obscure writer in the Lives of
the Poets. Works, x. i.]

Yet again. In the hands of Johnson--and it was a necessary consequence
of his critical method--poetry becomes more and more a mere matter of
mechanism. Once admit that the greatness of a poet depends upon his
success in following certain models, and it is but a short step--if
indeed it be a step--further to say that he must attempt no task that
has not been set him by the example of his forerunners. It is doubtless
true that Johnson did not, in so many words, commit himself to this
absurdity. But it is equally true that any poet, who overstepped the
bounds laid down by previous writers, was likely to meet with but
little mercy at his hands. Milton, Cowley, Gray--for all had the
audacity to take an untrodden path in poetry-one after another are
dragged up for execution. It is clear that by example, if not by
precept, Johnson was prepared to "make poetry a mere mechanic art";
and Cowper was right in saying that it had become so with Pope's
successors. Indeed John--son himself, in closing his estimate of Pope,
seems half regretfully to anticipate Cowper's verdict. "By perusing
the works of Dryden, he discovered the most perfect fabrick of English
verse, and habituated himself to that only which he found the best.
... New sentiments and new images others may produce; but to attempt
any further improvement of versification will be dangerous. Art and
diligence have now done their best, and what shall be added will be
the effort of tedious toil and needless curiosity". [Footnote: _Life
of Pope_. Johnson's Works, xi. pp 194, 195.] But Johnson failed to see
that his own view of poetry led inevitably to this lame and impotent

To adopt Johnson's method is, in truth, to misconceive the whole nature
of poetry and of poetic imagination. The ideas that have shaped the
work of one poet may act as guide and spur, but can never be a rule--far
less a law--to the imagination of another. The idea, as it comes to
an artist, is not a law imposing itself from without; it is a seed of
life and energy springing from within. This, however, was a truth
entirely hidden from the eyes of Johnson and the Augustan critics. To
assert it both by word and deed, both as critics and as poets, was the
task of Coleridge, and of those who joined hands with Coleridge, in
the succeeding generation. Apart from the undying beauty of their work
as artists, this was the memorable service they rendered to poetry in

It remains to illustrate the method of Johnson by its practical
application. As has already been said, Johnson is nothing if not a
hanging judge; and it is just where originality is most striking that
his sentences are the most severe. If there was one writer who might
have been expected to win his favour, it was Pope; and if there is any
work that bears witness to the originality of Pope's genius, it is the
imitations of Horace. These are dismissed in a disparaging sentence.
There is no adequate recognition of Congreve's brilliance as a
dramatist; none of Swift's amazing powers as a satirist. Yet all these
were men who lived more or less within the range of ideas and tendencies
by which Johnson's own mind was moulded and inspired.

The case is still worse when we turn to writers of a different school.
Take the poets from the Restoration to the closing years of the American
war; and it is not too much to say that, with the exception of
Thomson--saved perhaps by his "glossy, unfeeling diction"--there is
not one of them who overstepped the bounds marked out for literary
effort by the prevailing taste of the Augustan age, in its narrowest
sense, without paying the price for his temerity in the sneers or
reprobation of Johnson. Collins, it is true, escapes more lightly than
the rest; but that is probably due to the affection and pity of his
critic. Yet even Collins, perhaps the most truly poetic spirit of the
century between Milton and Burns, is blamed for a "diction often harsh,
unskillfully laboured, and injudiciously selected"; for "lines commonly
of slow motion"; for "poetry that may sometimes extort praise, when
it gives little pleasure". [Footnote: Johnson's Works, xi. 270.]The
poems of Gray--an exception must be made, to Johnson's honour, in
favour of the _Elegy_ [Footnote: In the bosom of "the Club" the
exception dwindled to two stanzas (Boswell's Life, ii. 300).] are
slaughtered in detail; [Footnote: Johnson's Works, xi. 372-378. Johnson
is peculiarly sarcastic on the _Bard_ and the _Progress of Poetry_.]
the man himself is given dog's burial with the compendious epitaph:
"A dull fellow, sir; dull in company, dull in his closet, dull
everywhere". [Footnote: Boswell's _Life_, ii. 300. Comp. in. 435.]

But most astonishing of all, as is well known, is the treatment bestowed
on Milton. Of all Milton's works, _Paradise Lost_ seems to have been
the only one that Johnson genuinely admired. That he praises with as
little of reservation as was in the nature of so stern a critic. On
_Paradise Regained_ he is more guarded; on _Samson_, more guarded yet.
[Footnote: The two papers devoted to _Samson_ in the _Rambler_ are
"not entitled even to this slender commendation". "This is the tragedy
that ignorance has admired and bigotry applauded" (Johnson's Works,
v. 436).] But it is in speaking of the earlier poems that Johnson shows
his hand most plainly. _Comus_ "is a drama in the epic style,
inelegantly splendid and tediously instructive". [Footnote: Johnson's
Works, ix. 153.] Of _Lycidas_ "the diction is harsh, the rhymes
uncertain, and the numbers un-pleasing" [Footnote: Ib. 159.] As for
the sonnets, "they deserve not any particular criticism. For of the
best it can only be said that they are not bad; and perhaps only the
eighth and twenty-first are truly entitled to this slender
commendation.... These little pieces may be dismissed without much
anxiety". [Footnote: Ib. 160. The two sonnets are those written _When
the assault was intended to the City_, and _On his Blindness_.]

It would be hardly worth while to record these ill-tempered judgments
if they were not the natural outcome of a method which held unquestioned
sway over English taste for a full century--in France for nearly
two--and which, during that time, if we except Gray and his friends,
was not seriously disputed by a single man of mark. The one author in
whose favour the rules of "correct writing" were commonly set aside
was Shakespeare; and perhaps there is no testimony to his greatness
so convincing as the unwilling homage it extorted from the
contemporaries of Pope, of Johnson, and of Hume. Johnson's own notes
and introductions to the separate plays are at times trifling enough;
[Footnote: Compare the assault on the "mean expressions" of Shakespeare
(Rambler, No. 168).] but his general preface is a solid and manly piece
of work. It contrasts strangely not only with the verdicts given above,
but with his jeers at _Chevy Chase_ [Footnote: Ib. x. 139.]--a "dull
and lifeless imbecility"--at the _Nonne Prestes Tale_, and at the
_Knightes Tale_ [Footnote: Ib. ix. 432.]

One more instance, and we may leave this depressing study in critical
perversity. Among the great writers of Johnson's day there was none
who showed a truer originality than Fielding; no man who broke more
markedly with the literary superstitions of the time; none who took
his own road with more sturdiness and self-reliance. This was enough
for Johnson, who persistently depreciated both the man and his work.
Something of this should doubtless be set down to disapproval of the
free speech and readiness to allow for human frailty, which could not
but give offence to a moralist so unbending as Johnson. But that will
hardly account for the assertion that "Harry Fielding knew nothing but
the outer shell of life"; still less for the petulant ruling that he
"was a barren rascal". [Footnote: Boswell's _Life_, ii. 169. Diary and
Letters of Madame D'Arblay, i. 91] The truth is--and Johnson felt it
instinctively--that the novel, as conceived by Fielding--the novel
that gloried in painting all sides of life, and above all in drawing
out the humour of its "lower spheres"--dealt a fatal blow not only at
the pompous canons which the _Rambler_ was pleased to call "the
indispensable laws of Aristotelian criticism", [Footnote: Johnson's
Works, v. 431.]  but also at the view which found "human life to be
a state where much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed". It would
be hard to say whether Johnson found more in Fielding to affront him,
as pessimist or as critic. And it would be equally hard to say in which
of the two characters lay the greater barrier to literary insight.
Even Richardson--no less revolutionary, though in a different way,
than Fielding--was only saved so as by fire; by the undying hatred
which he shared with Johnson for his terrible rival. It was rather as
moralist than as artist, rather for "the sentiment" than for the tragic
force of his work, that Richardson seems to have won his way to
Johnson's heart. [Footnote: See the passage referred to in the preceding

Is not the evidence conclusive? Is it a harsh judgment to say that no
critic so narrow, so mechanical, so hostile to originality as Johnson
has ever achieved the dictatorship of English letters?

The supremacy of Johnson would have been impossible, had not the way
been smoothed for it by a long succession of critics like-minded with
himself. Such a succession may be traced from Swift to Addison, from
Addison to Pope, and--with marked reservations--from Pope to Goldsmith.
It would be unjust to charge all, or indeed any, of these with the
narrowness of view betrayed in Johnson's verdicts on individual writers.
To arrive at this perfection of sourness was a work of time; and the
nature of Addison and Goldsmith at least was too genial to allow of
any approach to it. But, with all their difference of temperament, the
method of the earlier critics is hardly to be distinguished from that
of Johnson. There is the same orderliness of treatment--first the
fable, then the characters, lastly the sentiment and the diction; the
same persistency in applying general rules to a matter which, above
all others, is a law to itself; the same invincible faith in "the
indispensable laws of Aristotelian criticism". It is this that, in
spite of its readiness to admire, makes Addison's criticism of _Paradise
Lost_ so dreary a study; and this that, in an evil hour, prompted
Goldsmith to treat the soliloquy of Hamlet as though it were a
schoolboy's exercise in rhetoric and logic. [Footnote: Goldsmith, Essay
xvi. The next essay contains a like attack on Mercutio's description
of Queen Mab.]

And yet it is with Goldsmith that we come to the first dawn of better
things. The carping strain and the stiffness of method, that we cannot
overlook in him, were the note of his generation. The openness to new
ideas, the sense of nature, the fruitful use of the historical method,
are entirely his own. There had been nothing like them in our literature
since Dryden. In criticism, as in creative work, Goldsmith marks the
transition from the old order to the new.

Perhaps the clearest indication of this is to be found in his constant
appeal to nature. In itself, as we have seen, this may mean much or
little. "Nature" is a vague word; it was the battle-cry of Wordsworth,
but it was also the battle-cry of Boileau. And, at first sight, it
might seem to be used by Goldsmith in the narrower rather than in the
wider sense. "It is the business of art", he writes, "to imitate nature,
but not with a servile pencil; and to choose those attitudes and
dispositions only which are beautiful and engaging." [Footnote:
Goldsmith, Essay xiii.] But a glance at the context will show that
what Goldsmith had in mind was not "nature to advantage dressed", not
nature with any adornments added by man; but nature stripped of all
that to man has degrading associations; nature, to adopt the words
used by Wordsworth on a kindred subject, "purified from all lasting
or rational causes of dislike or disgust". It may well be that Goldsmith
gave undue weight to this reservation. It may well be that he did not
throw himself on nature with the unwavering constancy of Wordsworth.
But, none the less, we have here--and we have it worked out in detail
[Footnote: As to oratory, poetry, the drama, and acting, Ib., Essays
iv., xii., xiii.; _The Bee_, no. ii.]--the germ of the principle which,
in bolder hands, gave England the Lyrical Ballads and the Essays of

In an essay not commonly reprinted, Goldsmith, laying his finger on
the one weak spot in the genius of Gray, gives the poet the memorable
advice--to "study the people". And throughout his own critical work,
as in his novel, his comedies, and his poems, there is an abiding sense
that, without this, there is no salvation for poetry. That in itself
is enough to fix an impassable barrier between Goldsmith and the
official criticism of his day.

The other main service rendered by Goldsmith was his return to the
historical method. It is true that his knowledge is no more at first
hand, and is set out with still less system than that of Dryden a
century before. But it is also true that he has a far keener sense of
the strength which art may draw from history than his great forerunner.
Dryden confines himself to the history of certain forms of art;
Goldsmith includes the history of nations also in his view. With Dryden
the past is little more than an antiquarian study; with Goldsmith it
is a living fountain of inspiration for the present. The art of the
past--the poetry, say, of Teutonic or Celtic antiquity--is to him an
undying record of the days when man still walked hand in hand with
nature. The history of the past is at once a storehouse of stirring
themes ready to the hand of the artist, and the surest safeguard against
both flatness and exaggeration in his work. [Footnote: See Essays
xiii., xiv., xx.; _Present State of Polite Learning_, in particular,
chap. xi.] It offers, moreover, the truest schooling of the heart, and
insensibly "enlists the passions on the side of humanity". "Poetry",
Byron said, "is the feeling of a former world, and future"; [Footnote:
Moore's _Life_, p. 483] and to the first half of the statement Goldsmith
would have heartily subscribed. For the historical method in his hands
is but another aspect of the counsel he gave to Gray: "Study the
people". It is an anticipation--vague, no doubt, but still
unmistakable--of the spirit which, both in France and England, gave
birth to the romantic movement a generation or two later.

That zeal for the literature of the past was in the air when Goldsmith
wrote is proved by works so different as those of Gray and Percy, of
Chatterton and MacPherson, of Mallet and Warton. [Footnote: Percy's
Reliques were published in 1765; Chatterton's _Rowley Poems_ written
in 1769; MacPherson's _Ossian_ (first instalment) in 1760; Mallet's
_Northern Antiquities_ in 1755; and Warton's _History of English
Poetry_--a book to the learning and importance of which scant justice
has been done--from 1772 to 1778. To these should be added a work,
whose fine scholarship and profound learning is now universally
admitted, Tyrwhitt's _Chaucer_ (1775-78). It will be noticed that all
these works fall within the space of twenty years, 1755-1775] But it
may be doubted whether any one of them, Gray excepted, saw the true
bearing of the movement more clearly than Goldsmith, or did more to
open fresh springs of thought and beauty for the poetry of the next
age, if not of his own. It would be unpardonable to turn from the
writers of the eighteenth century with no notice of a book which,
seldom now read, is nevertheless perhaps the most solid piece of work
that modern Europe had as yet to show in any branch of literary
criticism. This is Burke's treatise _On the Sublime and the Beautiful_.
Few will now be prepared to accept the material basis which Burke finds
for the ideas of the imagination. [Footnote: Burke traces our ideas
of the sublime to the sense of physical pain; our ideas of the beautiful
to that of physical pleasure; identifying the former with a contraction
or tension, and the latter with a relaxation of the muscles. Against
this theory two main objections may be urged: (1) As, on Burke's own
showing, the objects of the imagination, at least as far as poetry is
concerned, are, and must be, presented first to the _mind_, it is (in
the strictest sense of the term) preposterous to attribute their power
over us to a purely muscular operation (2) The argument, taken by
itself, is barely relevant to the matter in hand. Even where a physical
basis can be proved--as it can in the case of music, painting, and
sculpture (and of poetry, so far as rhythm and harmony are an essential
element of it) it is extravagant to maintain that the physiologist or
the "psycho physicist" can explain the whole, or even the greater part,
of what has to be explained Beyond the fraction of information that
purely physical facts can give us, a vast field must be left to
intellectual and imaginative association. And that is the province not
of physiology but of psychology, and of what the Germans call
_Aesthetik_ This province, however, is but seldom entered by Burke.

What, then, was it that drove Burke to a position so markedly at
variance with the idealism of his later years? In all probability it
was his rooted suspicion of reasoning as a deliberate and conscious
process. Other writers of the century--Addison, for instance--had
spoken as if men reasoned from certain abstract ideas (proportion,
fitness, and the like) to individual instances of beauty, deciding a
thing to have beauty or no, according as it squared or failed to square
with the general notion This, as Burke points out, is more than
questionable in itself, and it was certain to affront a man who, even
thus early, had shown an almost morbid hatred of abstractions. In his
later years, as is well known, he sought refuge from them in instinct,
in "prejudice", in the unconscious working of the "permanent reason
of man". In earlier days--he was still well under thirty--he found
escape by the grosser aid of a materialist explanation (Burke's treatise
was published in 1756 The _Laocoon_ of Lessing, a work which may be
compared with that of Burke and which was very probably suggested by
it, appeared in 1766.)] But none can deny the skill with which he works
out his theory, nor the easy mastery with which each part is fitted
into its place. The speculative power of the book and the light it
throws on the deeper springs of the imagination are alike memorable.
The first is not unworthy of the _Reflections_ or the _Appeal from the
New to the Old Whigs_; the second shows that fruitful study of the
Bible and the poets, English and classical, to which his later writings
and speeches bear witness on every page.

If the originality and depth of Burke's treatise is to be justly
measured, it should be set side by side with those papers of Addison
which Akenside expanded in his dismal _Pleasures of the Imagination_.
The performance of Addison, grateful though one must be to him for
attempting it, is thin and lifeless. That of Burke is massive and full
of suggestion. At every turn it betrays the hand of the craftsman who
works with his eye upon his tools. The speculative side of criticism
has never been a popular study with Englishmen, and it is no accident
that one of the few attempts to deal seriously with it should have
been made at the only time when philosophy was a living power among
us, and when the desire to get behind the outward shows of things was
keener than it has ever been before or since. But for Burke's treatise,
a wide gap would have been left both in the philosophy and the criticism
of the eighteenth century; and it is to be wished that later times had
done more to work the vein which he so skilfully explored. As it is,
the writers both of France and Germany--above all, Hegel in his
_Aesthetik_--have laboured with incomparably more effect than his own
countrymen, Mr. Ruskin excepted, upon the foundations that he laid.

IV. Johnson's _Lives of the Poets_ was the last word of the school
which the Restoration had enthroned; the final verdict of the supreme
court which gave the law to English letters from the accession of Anne
to the French Revolution. Save in the splenetic outbursts of Byron--and
they are not to be taken too seriously--the indispensable laws of
Aristotelian criticism fell silent at Johnson's death. A time of anarchy
followed; anarchy _plus_ the policeman's truncheon of the _Edinburgh_
and the _Quarterly_. [Footnote: The first number of the _Edinburgh_
appeared in 1802; the _Quarterly_ was started in a counterblast in

The ill-fame of these Reviews, as they were in their pride of youth,
is now so great that doubts may sometimes suggest themselves whether
it can possibly be deserved. No one who feels such doubts can do better
than turn to the earlier numbers; he will be forced to the conclusion
that, whatever their services as the journeymen of letters and of party
politics, few critics could have been so incompetent to judge of genius
as the men who enlisted under the standard of Jeffrey or of Gifford.
There is not, doubtless, in either Review the same iron wall of reasoned
prejudice that has been noted in Johnson, but there is a plentiful
lack of the clear vision and the openness to new impressions which are
the first necessity of the critic. What Carlyle says of Jeffrey and
the _Edinburgh_ may be taken as the substantial truth also about Gifford
and the _Quarterly_, and it is the most pregnant judgment that has yet
been passed upon them.

"Jeffrey may be said to have begun the rash, reckless style of
criticising everything in heaven and earth by appeal to Moliere's maid:
'Do _you_ like it?' '_Don't_ you like it?' a style which, in hands
more and more inferior to that sound-hearted old lady and him, has
since grown gradually to such immeasurable length among us; and he
himself is one of the first that suffers by it. If praise and blame
are to be perfected, not in the mouth of Moliere's maid only but in
that of mischievous, precocious babes and sucklings, you will arrive
at singular judgments by degrees." [Footnote: Carlyle, _Reminiscences_
n 63, 64 ]

Carlyle has much here to say of Jeffrey's "recklessness", his defiance
of all rules, his appeal to the chance taste of the man in the crowd.
He has much also to say of his acuteness, and the unrivalled authority
of his decrees. [Footnote: "Jeffrey was by no means the supreme in
criticism or in anything else, but it is certain there has no critic
appeared among us since who was worth naming beside him and his
influence for good and for evil in literature and otherwise has been
very great. Nothing in my time has so forwarded all this--the 'gradual
uprise and rule in all things of roaring, million headed &c Demos'--
"as Jeffrey and his once famous _Edinburgh Review_'--Ib ] But he is
discreetly silent on their severity and short-sightedness. [Footnote:
"You know", Byron wrote in 1808 "the system of the Edinburgh gentlemen
is universal attack. They praise none, and neither the public nor the
author expects praise from them."--Moore's _Life_, p 67.]

Yet this is the unpardonable sin of both Reviews: that mediocrity was
applauded, but that, whenever a man of genius came before them, the
chances were ten to one that he would be held up to ridicule and
contempt. The very first number of the _Edinburgh_ lays this down as
an article of faith. Taking post on the recent appearance of _Thalaba_,
the reviewer opens fire by a laboured parallel between poetry and
religion. [Footnote: _Edinburgh Review_, No. 1, pp 63, &c ] With an
alteration of names it might have been written by a member of the
English Church Union, or of the Holy Inquisition.

"The standards of poetry have been fixed long ago by certain inspired
writers, whose authority it is no longer lawful to call in question.
Many profess to be entirely devoted to poetry, who have no _good works_
to produce in support of their pretensions. The Catholic poetical
Church too . . . has given birth to an infinite variety of heresies
and errors, the followers of which have hated and persecuted each other
as heartily as other bigots."

Then, turning to business, the writer proceeds to apply his creed to
Southey and all his works, not forgetting the works also of his friends.
"The author belongs to a sect of poets that has established itself in
this country within these ten or twelve years"--it would be hard to
say for whose benefit in particular this date was taken--"and is looked
upon as one of its chief champions and apostles". "The doctrines of
this sect"--the Reviewer continues, with an eye upon the Alien Act--"are
of German origin, or borrowed from the great apostle of Geneva".
Rousseau is then "named" for expulsion, together with a miscellaneous
selection of his following: Schiller and Kotzebue (the next number
includes Kant under the anathema), Quarles and Donne, Ambrose Phillips
and Cowper--perhaps the most motley crew that was ever brought together
for excommunication. It is not, however, till the end of the essay
that the true root of bitterness between the critic and his victims
is suffered fully to appear. "A splenetic and idle discontent with the
existing institutions of society seems to be at the bottom of all their
serious and peculiar sentiments." In other words, the _Edinburgh_ takes
up the work of the _Anti-Jacobin_; with no very good grace Jeffrey
affects to sit in the seat of Canning and of Frere.

So much for the "principles" of the new venture; principles, it will
be seen, which appear to rest rather upon a hatred of innovation in
general than upon any reasoned code, such as that of Johnson or the
"Aristotelian laws", in particular. On that point, it must be clearly
realized, Carlyle was in the right. It is that which marks the essential
difference of the Reviewers--we can hardly say their advance--as against

We may now turn to watch the Reviewers, knife in hand, at the
dissecting-table. For the twenty-five years that followed the foundation
of the _Edinburgh_, England was more full of literary genius than it
had been at any time since the age of Elizabeth. And it is not too
much to say that during that period there was not one of the men, now
accepted as among the chief glories of English literature, who did not
fall under the lash of one, or both, of the Reviews. The leading cases
will suffice.

And first, the famous attack--not altogether undeserved, it must be
allowed--of the _Edinburgh_ upon Byron. "The poetry of this young lord
belongs to the class which neither gods nor men are said to permit",
and so on for two or three pages of rather vulgar and heartless
merriment at the young lord's expense. [Footnote: _Edinburgh Review_,
xi. 285. It is uncommonly hard to find any trace of poetic power, even
of the imitative kind, in the _Hours of Idleness_. It is significant
that the best pieces are those in the heroic couplet; an indication--to
be confirmed by _English Bards_--of Byron's leaning towards the past.]
The answer to the sneer, as all the world knows, was _English Bards
and Scotch Reviewers_. The author of the article had reason to be proud
of his feat. Never before did pertness succeed in striking such
unexpected fire from genius. And it is only fair to say that the Review
took its beating like a gentleman. A few years later, and the
_Edinburgh_ was among the warmest champions of the "English Bard".
[Footnote: See the article on _The Corsair_ and _Bride of Abydos_, Ib.
xxiii. 198. After speaking of the "beauty of his diction and
versification, and the splendour of his description", the reviewer
continues: "But it is to his pictures of the stronger passions that
he is indebted for the fulness of his fame. He has delineated with
unequalled force and fidelity the workings of those deep and powerful
emotions.... We would humbly suggest to him to do away with the reproach
of the age by producing a tragic drama of the old English school of
poetry and pathos." The _amende honorable_ with a vengeance. The review
of _The Giaour_, Byron thought, was "so very mild and sentimental that
it must be written by Jeffrey in _love_".--Moore's _Life_, p. 191.]
It was reserved for Southey, a pillar of the _Quarterly_, to rank him
as the "Goliath" of the "Satanic school".

Let us now turn to the _Quarterly_ upon Keats. _Endymion_, in spite
of the noble self-criticism of its preface, is denounced as "Cockney
poetry" [Footnote: The phrase was also employed by _Blackwood_, vol.
iii. 519-524.]--a stupid and pointless vulgarism--and is branded as
clothing "the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language".
The author is dismissed with the following amenities: "Being bitten
by Leigh Hunt's insane criticism, he more than rivals the insanity of
his poetry"; and we are half-surprised not to find him told, as he was
by _Blackwood_, to "go back to the shop, Mr. John; back to the plasters,
pills, and ointment-boxes". [Footnote: _Quarterly Review_, xix. 204.
See _Blackwood_, vol. iii. 524; where the Reviewer sneers at "the calm,
settled, imperturbable, drivelling idiocy of _Endymion_".]

With this insolence it is satisfactory to contrast the verdict of the
_Edinburgh_: "We have been exceedingly struck with the genius these
poems--_Endymion_, _Lamia_, _Isabella_, _The Eve of St. Agnes_,
&c.--display, and the spirit of poetry which breathes through all their
extravagance. . . . They are at least as full of genius as absurdity."
Of _Hyperion_ the Reviewer says: "An original character and distinct
individuality is bestowed upon the poet's mythological persons. . . .
We cannot advise its completion. For, though there are passages of
some force and grandeur, it is sufficiently obvious that the subject
is too far removed from all the sources of human interest to be
successfully treated by any modern author". [Footnote: Edinburgh Review,
xxxiv. 203.] A blundering criticism, which, however, may be pardoned
in virtue of the discernment, not to say the generosity, of the
foregoing estimate.

It would have been well had the _Edinburgh_ always written in this
vein. But Wordsworth was a sure stumbling-block to the sagacity of his
critics, and he certainly never failed to call forth the insolence and
flippancy of Jeffrey. Two articles upon him remain as monuments to the
incompetence of the _Edinburgh_; the first prompted by the Poems of
1807, the second by the _Excursion_.

The former pronounces sentence roundly at the very start: "Mr.
Wordsworth's diction has nowhere any pretence to elegance or dignity,
and he has scarcely ever condescended to give the grace of correctness
or dignity to his versification". From this sweeping condemnation four
poems--_Brougham Castle_, and the sonnets on Venice, Milton, and
Bonaparte--are generously excepted. But, as though astonished at his
own moderation, the reviewer quickly proceeds to deal slaughter among
the rest. Of the closing lines of _Resolution and Independence_ he
writes: "We defy Mr. Wordsworth's bitterest enemy to produce anything
at all parallel to this from any collection of English poetry, or even
from the specimens of his friend, Mr. Southey". Of the stanzas to the
sons of Burns, "never was anything more miserable". _Alice Fell_ is
"trash"; _Yarrow Unvisited_, "tedious and affected". The lines from
the _Ode to Duty_.

  "Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,
  And the most ancient heavens through thee are fresh and strong,"

are "utterly without meaning". The poem on the _Cuckoo_ is "absurd".
The _Ode on Immortality_ is "the most illegible and unintelligible
part of the whole publication". "We venture to hope that there is now
an end of this folly." [Footnote: _Edinburgh Review_, xi. 217, &c.]

But the hope is doomed to disappointment. The publication of the
_Excursion_ a few years later finds the reviewer still equal to his
task. "This will never do", he begins in a fury; "the case of Mr.
Wordsworth is now manifestly hopeless. We give him up as altogether
incurable and beyond the power of criticism." The story of Margaret,
indeed, though "it abounds, of course, with mawkish sentiment and
details of preposterous minuteness, has considerable pathos". But the
other passage which one would have thought must have gone home to every
heart--that which describes the communing of the wanderer with nature
[Footnote: _Excursion_, book i.]--is singled out for ridicule; while
the whole poem is judged to display "a puerile ambition of singularity,
grafted on an unlucky predilection for truisms". [Footnote: _Edinburgh
Review_, xxiv. I, &c. It is but just to add that in the remainder of
the essay the Reviewer takes back--so far as such things can ever be
taken back--a considerable part of his abuse.]

It would be idle to maintain that in some of these slashing verdicts--
criticisms they cannot be called--the reviewer does not fairly hit the
mark. But these are chance strokes; and they are dealt, as the whole
attack is conceived, in the worst style of the professional swash-
buckler. Yet, low as is the deep they sound, a lower deep is opened
by the _Quarterly_ in its article on Shelley; an article which bears
unmistakable marks of having been written under the inspiration, if
not by the hand, of Southey.

It is impossible to know anything about Southey without feeling that,
both in character and in intellect, he had many of the qualities that
go to make an enlightened critic. But his fine nature was warped by
a strain of bigotry; and he had what, even in a man who otherwise gave
conclusive proof of sincerity and whole-heartedness, must be set down
as a strong touch of the Pharisee. After every allowance has been made,
no feeling other than indignation is possible at the tone which he
thought fit to adopt towards Shelley.

He opens the assault, and it is well that he does so, by an
acknowledgment that the versification of the _Revolt of Islam_, the
_corpus delicti_ at that moment under the scalpel, is "smooth and
harmonious", and that the poem is "not without beautiful passages,
free from errors of taste". But the "voice of warning", as he himself
would too generously have called it, is not long in making itself
heard. "Mr. Shelley, with perfect deliberation and the steadiest
perseverance, perverts all the gifts of his nature, and does all the
injury, both public and private, which his faculties enable him to
perpetrate. . . .He draws largely on the rich stores of another mountain
poet, to whose religious mind it must be matter of perpetual sorrow
to see the philosophy, which comes pure and holy from his pen, degraded
and perverted by this miserable crew of atheists and pantheists."

So far, perhaps, the writer may claim not to have outstepped the
traditional limits of theological hatred. For what follows there is
not even that poor excuse. "If we might withdraw the veil of his private
life and tell what we now know about him, it would be indeed a
disgusting picture that we should exhibit, but it would be an
unanswerable comment on our text. . .Mr. Shelley is too young, too
ignorant, too inexperienced, and too vicious to undertake the task of
reforming any world but the little world within his own breast."
[Footnote: Quarterly Review, xxi. 460, &c.] For the credit of both
Reviews it must be said that it would be difficult to find another
instance of so foul a blow as this: [Footnote: Except in the infamous
insinuations, also a crime of the _Quarterly_,]

  Non ragioniam di _lui_, ma guarda e passa.

[Footnote: against the character of Currer Bell. See also the scurrilous
attack on the character of Leigh Hunt in _Blackwood_, vol III 453]

Apart from their truculence, the early numbers of the _Edinburgh_ and
_Quarterly_ are memorable for two reasons in the history of English
literature. They mark the downfall of the absolute standard assumed
by Johnson and others to hold good in criticism. And they led the way,
slowly indeed but surely, to the formation of a general interest in
literature, which, sooner or later, could not but be fatal to their
own haphazard dogmatism. By their very nature they were an appeal to
the people; and, like other appeals of the kind, they ended in a

Of the men who fixed the lines on which this revolution was to run,
four stand out taller from the shoulders upwards than their fellows.
These are Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and Carlyle. The critical work of
all four belongs to the first thirty years or so of the present century;
[Footnote: Some of the dates are as follows Lamb's _Specimens of English
Dramatic Poets_ was published in 1808, his _Essays of Elia_ began to
appear in the _London Magazine_, 1820, Coleridge's first Course of
Lectures (on English poets) was delivered in 1808, his second Course,
in 1811-12, his _Biographia Literana_ in 1817  Hazlitt's _Characters
of Shakespeare's Plays_ was published in 1817, his _Lectures on the
English Poets_ in 1818, and on _The English Comic Writers_ in 1819
Carlyle's Essays began to appear (in the _Edinburgh_ and other Reviews)
in 1827, that on Diderot--the last notable essay of a literary cast--in
1833 Hazlitt died in 1830, Coleridge and Lamb in 1834  By that time
Carlyle had turned to history and kindred subjects] and of the four
it is probable that Carlyle, by nature certainly the least critical,
had the greatest influence in changing the current of critical ideas.
Space forbids any attempt to treat their work in detail. All that can
be done is to indicate what were the shortcomings of English criticism
as it came into their hands, and how far and in what manner they
modified its methods and its aims.

Till the beginning of the present century, criticism in England had
remained a very simple thing. When judgment had once been passed, for
good or evil, on an individual work or an individual writer, the critic
was apt to suppose that nothing further could reasonably be expected
of him. The comparative method, foreshadowed but only foreshadowed by
Dryden, had not been carried perceptibly further by Dryden's successors.
The historical method was still more clearly in its infancy. The
connection between the two, the unity of purpose which alone gives
significance to either, was hardly as yet suspected.

It may be said--an English critic of the eighteenth century would
undoubtedly have said--that these, after all, are but methods; better,
possibly, than other methods; but still no more than means to an end--
the eternal end of criticism, which is to appraise and to classify.
The view is disputable enough. It leaves out of sight all that
criticism--the criticism of literature and art--has done to throw light
upon the dark places of human thought and history, upon the growth and
subtle transformations of spiritual belief, upon the power of reason
and imagination to mould the shape of outward institutions. All these
things are included in the scope of the historical and comparative
methods; and all of them stand entirely apart from the need to judge
or classify the works of individual poets.

But, for the moment, such wider considerations may be put aside, and
the objection weighed on its own merits. It must then be answered that,
without comparison and without the appeal to history, even to judge
and classify reasonably would be impossible; and hence that, however
much we narrow the scope of criticism, these two methods--or rather,
two aspects of the same method--must still find place within its range.
For, failing them, the critic in search of a standard--and without
some standard or criterion there can be no such thing as criticism--is
left with but two possible alternatives. He must either appeal to some
absolute standard--the rules drawn from the "classical writers", in
a sense wider or narrower, as the case may be; or he must decide
everything by his own impression of the moment, eked out by the "appeal
to Moliere's maid". The latter is the negation of all criticism. The
former, spite of itself, is the historical method, but the historical
method applied in an utterly arbitrary and irrational way. The former
was the method of Johnson; the latter, of the _Edinburgh_ and the
_Quarterly_. Each in turn, as we have seen, had ludicrously broken

In the light of recent inventions, it might have been expected that
some attempt would be made to limit the task of the critic to a mere
record of his individual impressions. This, in fact, would only have
been to avow, and to give the theory of what the _Edinburgh_ and the
_Quarterly_ had already reduced to practice. But the truth is that the
men of that day were not strong in such fine-spun speculations. It was
a refinement from which even Lamb, who loved a paradox as well as any
man, would have shrunk with playful indignation.

It was in another direction that Coleridge and his contemporaries
sought escape from the discredit with which criticism was threatened.
This was by changing the issue on which the discussion was to be fought.
In its most general form, the problem of criticism amounts to this:
What is the nature of the standard to be employed in literary judgments?
Hitherto--at least to the Reviewers--the question may be said to have
presented itself in the following shape: Is the standard to be sought
within or without the mind of the critic? Is it by his own impression,
or by the code handed down from previous critics, that in the last
resort the critic should be guided? In the hands of Coleridge and
others, this was replaced by the question: Is the touchstone of
excellence to be found within the work of the poet, or outside of it?
Are we to judge of a given work merely by asking: Is it clearly
conceived and consistently carried out? Or are we bound to consider
the further question: Is the original conception just, and capable of
artistic treatment; and is the workmanship true to the vital principles
of poetry? The change is significant. It makes the poet, not the critic,
master of the situation. It implies that the critic is no longer to
give the law to the poet; but that, in some sense more or less complete,
he must begin, if not by putting himself in the place of the individual
writer as he was when at work on the individual poem, at least by
taking upon himself--by making his own, as far as may be--what he may
conceive to be the essential temperament of the poet.

This, indeed, is one of the first things to strike us in passing from
the old criticism to the new. The _Edinburgh_ and _Quarterly_ plunge
straight into the business of the moment. From the first instant--with
"This will never do"--the Reviewer poses as the critic, or rather as
the accuser. Not so Coleridge and Hazlitt. Like the _Edinburgh_ and
_Quarterly_, they undertake to discourse on individual poets. Unlike
them, each opens his enquiry with the previous question-a question
that seems to have found no lodgment in the mind of the Reviewers--What
is poetry? Further than this. Hazlitt, in a passage of incomparably
greater force than any recorded utterance of Coleridge, makes it his
task to trace poetry to the deepest and most universal springs of human
nature; asserts boldly that it is poetry which, in the strictest sense,
is "the life of all of us"; and calls on each one of us to assert his
birthright by enjoying it. It is in virtue of the poet latent in him,
that the plain man has the power to become a critic.

Starting then from the question as just stated: Is it within the mind
of the individual poet, or without it, that the standard of judgment
should be sought?--neither Coleridge nor Hazlitt could have any doubt
as to the answer. It is not, they would tell us, in the individual
work but in the nature of poetry--of poetry as written large in the
common instincts of all men no less than in the particular achievement
of exceptional artists--that the test of poetic beauty must be
discovered. The opposite view, doubtless, finds some countenance in
the precepts, if not the example, of Goethe. But, when pressed to
extremes, it is neither more nor less than the impressionist conception
of criticism transferred to the creative faculty; and, like its
counterpart, is liable to the objection that the impression of one
poet, so long as it is sincerely rendered, is as good as the impression
of another. It is the abdication of art, as the other is the abdication
of criticism.

Yet Hazlitt also--for, leaving Coleridge, we may now confine ourselves
to him--is open to attack. His fine critical powers were marred by the
strain of bitterness in his nature. And the result is that his judgment
on many poets, and notably the poets of his own day, too often sounds
like an intelligent version of the _Edinburgh_ or the _Quarterly_. Or,
to speak more accurately, he betrays some tendency to return to
principles which, though assuredly applied in a more generous spirit,
are at bottom hardly to be distinguished from the principles of Johnson.
He too has his "indispensable laws", or something very like them. He
too has his bills of exclusion and his list of proscriptions. The
poetry of earth, he more than suspects, is for ever dead; after Milton,
no claimant is admitted to anything more substantial than a courtesy
title. This, no doubt, was in part due to his morose temper; but it
was partly also the result of the imperfect method with which he

The fault of his conception--and it was that which determined his
method--is to be too absolute. It allows too much room to poetry in
the abstract; too little to the ever-varying temperament of the
individual poet. And even that is perhaps too favourable a statement
of the case. His idea of poetry may in part be drawn--and its strength
is to have been partly drawn--direct from life and nature. But it is
also taken, as from the nature of the case it must be with all of us,
from the works of particular poets. And, in spite of his appeal to
Dante and the Bible, it is clear that, in framing it, he was guided
too exclusively by his loving study of the earlier English writers,
from Chaucer to Milton. The model, so framed, is laid with heavy hand
upon all other writers, who naturally fare ill in the comparison. Is
it possible to account otherwise for his disparagement of Moliere, or
his grudging praise of Wordsworth and of Coleridge?

It was here that Carlyle came in to redress the balance. From interests,
in their origin perhaps less purely literary than have moved any man
who has exercised a profound influence on literature, Carlyle was led
to quicken the sense of poetic beauty, and by consequence to widen the
scope of criticism, more than any writer of his day. He may have sought
German literature more for its matter than for its artistic
beauty--here, too, he brought a new, if in some ways a dangerous,
element into criticism--but neither he nor his readers could study it,
least of all could they study the work of Goethe, without awakening
to a whole world of imagination and beauty, to which England had
hitherto been dead. With all its shortcomings, the discovery of German
literature was a greater revelation than any made to Europe since the
classical Renaissance.

The shock--for it was nothing less--came at a singularly happy moment.
The blow, given by Carlyle as critic, was closely followed up by the
French _Romantiques_, as creative artists. Nothing could well have
been more alien to English taste, as understood by the _Edinburgh_ and
_Quarterly_, than the early works, or indeed any works, of Hugo and
those who owned him for chief--if it were not the works of Goethe and
the countrymen of Goethe. Different as these were from each other,
they held common ground in uniting the most opposite prejudices of
Englishmen against them. The sarcasms of Thackeray on the French writers
speak to this no less eloquently than the fluent flippancies of De
Quincey upon the Germans. [Footnote: See Thackeray's _Paris Sketch
Book_, especially the chapters on _Madame Sand and the New Apocalypse_
and _French Dramas and Melodramas_. See also De Quincey's Review of
Carlyle's translation of _Wilhelm Meister_. Works, vol. xii.] Yet, in
the one case as in the other--thanks, in no small measure, to Matthew
Arnold and Mr. Swinburne--genius, in the long run, carried the day.
And the same history has been repeated, as the literatures of Russia
and of Scandinavia have each in turn been brought within our ken.

These discoveries have all fallen within little more than half a century
since Carlyle, by the irony of fate, reviewed Richter and the _State
of German Literature_ in the pages of the _Edinburgh_. And their result
has been to modify the standards of taste and criticism in a thousand
ways. They have opened our eyes to aspects of poetry that we should
never otherwise have suspected, and unveiled to us fields of thought,
as well as methods of artistic treatment which, save by our own fault,
must both have widened and deepened our conception of poetry. That is
the true meaning of the historical method. The more we broaden our
vision, the less is our danger of confounding poetry, which is the
divine genius of the whole world, with the imperfect, if not misshapen
idols of the tribe, the market-place and the cave.

Of this conquest Carlyle must in justice be reckoned as the pioneer.
For many years he stood almost single-handed as the champion of German
thought and German art against the scorn or neglect of his countrymen.
But he knew that he was right, and was fully conscious whither the
path he had chosen was to lead. Aware that much in the work of Goethe
would seem "faulty" to many, he forestalls the objection at the outset.

"To see rightly into this matter, to determine with any infallibility
whether what we call a fault _is_ in very deed a fault, we must
previously have settled two points, neither of which may be so readily
settled. First, we must have made plain to ourselves what the poet's
aim really and truly was, how the task he had to do stood before his
own eye, and how far, with such means as it afforded him, he has
fulfilled it. Secondly, we must have decided whether and how far this
aim, this task of his accorded--not with _us_ and our individual
crotchets, and the crotchets of our little senate where we give or
take the law--but with human nature and the nature of things at large;
with the universal principles of poetic beauty, not as they stand
written in our text-books, but in the hearts and imaginations of all
men. Does the answer in either case come out unfavourable; was there
an inconsistency between the means and the end, a discordance between
the end and the truth, there is a fault; was there not, there is no
fault." [Footnote: Carlyle on Goethe: _Miscellanies_, i. 295]

Nothing could ring clearer than this. No man could draw the line more
accurately between the tendency to dispense with principles and the
tendency to stereotype them, which are the twin dangers of the critic.
But it is specially important to note Carlyle's relation, in this
matter, to Hazlitt He insists with as much force as Hazlitt upon the
need of basing all poetry on "human nature and the nature of things
at large"; upon the fact that its principles are written "in the hearts
and imaginations of all men". But, unlike Hazlitt, he bids us also
consider what the aim of the individual poet was, and how far he has
taken the most fitting means to reach it. In other words, he allows,
as Hazlitt did not allow, for the many-sidedness of poetry, and the
infinite variety of poetic genius. And, just because he does so, he
is able to give a deeper meaning to "nature" and the universal
principles of imagination than Hazlitt, with all his critical and
reflective brilliance, was in a position to do. Hazlitt is too apt to
confine "nature" to the nature of Englishmen in general and, in his
weaker moments, of Hazlitt in particular. Carlyle makes an honest
attempt to bound it only by the universal instincts of man, and the
"everlasting reason" of the world. Thus, in Carlyle's conception, "it
is the essence of the poet to be new"; it is his mission "to wrench
us from our old fixtures"; [Footnote: Carlyle on Goethe: _Miscellanies_,
i. 291.] for it is only by so doing that he can show us some aspect
of nature or of man's heart that was hidden from us before. The
originality of the poet, the impossibility of binding him by the example
of his forerunners, is the necessary consequence of the infinity of

That Carlyle saw this, and saw it so clearly, is no doubt partly due
to a cause, of which more must be said directly; to his craving for
ideas. [Footnote: See p. xciv.]  But it was in part owing to his hearty
acceptance of the historical method. Both as critic and as historian,
he knew--at that time, no man so well--that each nation has its own
genius; and justly pronounced the conduct of that nation which "isolates
itself from foreign influence, regards its own modes as so many laws
of nature, and rejects all that is different as unworthy even of
examination", to be "pedantry". [Footnote: _Miscellanies_, i. 37, 38.]
This was the first, and perhaps the most fruitful consequence that he
drew from the application of historical ideas to literature. They
enlarged his field of comparison; and, by so doing, they gave both
width and precision to his definition of criticism.

But there is another--and a more usual, if a narrower--sense of the
historical method; and here, too, Carlyle was a pioneer. He was among
the first in our country to grasp the importance of studying the
literature of a nation, as a whole, and from its earliest monuments,
its mythological and heroic legends, downwards to the present. The
year 1831--a turning-point in the mental history of Carlyle, for it
was also the year in which _Sartor Resartus_ took shape "among the
mountain solitudes"--was largely devoted to Essays on the history of
German literature, of which one, that on the _Nibelungenlied_, is
specially memorable. And some ten years later (1840) he again took up
the theme in the first of his lectures on Heroes, which still remains
the most enlightening, because the most poetic, account of the primitive
Norse faith, or rather successive layers of faith, in our language.
[Footnote: See _Lectures on Heroes_, p. 20; compare _Corpus Poeticum
Borealt_, i. p. ci. ] But what mainly concerns us here is that Carlyle,
in this matter as in others, had clearly realized and as clearly defines
the goal which the student, in this case the student of literary
history, should set before his eyes.

"A History ... of any national Poetry would form, taken in its complete
sense, one of the most arduous enterprises any writer could engage in.
Poetry, were it the rudest, so it be sincere, is the attempt which man
makes to render his existence harmonious, the utmost he can do for
that end; it springs, therefore, from his whole feelings, opinions,
activity, and takes its character from these. It may be called the
music of his whole manner of being; and, historically considered, is
the test how far Music, or Freedom, existed therein; how the feeling
of Love, of Beauty, and Dignity, could be elicited from that peculiar
situation of his, and from the views he there had of Life and Nature,
of the Universe, internal and external. Hence, in any measure to
understand the Poetry, to estimate its worth and historical meaning,
we ask, as a quite fundamental inquiry: What that situation was? Thus
the History of a nation's Poetry is the essence of its History,
political, economic, scientific, religious. With all these the complete
Historian of a national Poetry will be familiar; the national
physiognomy, in its finest traits and through its successive stages
of growth, will be dear to him: he will discern the grand spiritual
Tendency of each period, what was the highest Aim and Enthusiasm of
mankind in each, and how one epoch naturally evolved itself from the
other. He has to record the highest Aim of a nation, in its successive
directions and developments; for by this the Poetry of the nation
modulates itself; this _is_ the Poetry of the nation." [Footnote:
Carlyle, _Miscellanies_, iii. 292, 293.]

Never has the task of the literary historian been more accurately
defined than in this passage; and never do we feel so bitterly the
gulf between the ideal and the actual performance, at which more than
one man of talent has since tried his hand, as when we read it. It
strikes perhaps the first note of Carlyle's lifelong war against
"Dryasdust". But it contains at least two other points on which it is
well for us to pause.

The first is the inseparable bond which Carlyle saw to exist between
the poetry of a nation and its history; the connection which inevitably
follows from the fact that both one and the other are the expression
of its character. This is a vein of thought that was first struck by
Vico and by Montesquieu; but it was left for the German philosophers,
in particular Fichte and Hegel, to see its full significance; and
Carlyle was the earliest writer in this country to make it his own.
It is manifest that the connection between the literature and the
history of a nation may be taken from either side. We may illustrate
its literature from its history, or its history from its literature.
It is on the necessity of the former study that Carlyle dwells in the
above. And in the light of later exaggerations, notably those of Taine,
it is well to remember, what Carlyle himself would have been the last
man to forget, that no man of genius is the creature of his time or
his surroundings; and, consequently, that when we have mastered all
the circumstances, in Carlyle's phrase the whole "situation", of the
poet, we are still only at the beginning of our task. We have still
to learn what his genius made out of its surroundings, and what the
eye of the poet discovered in the world of traditional belief; in other
words, what it was that made him a poet, what it was that he saw and
to which all the rest were blind. We have studied the soil; we have
yet to study the tree that grew from it and overshadows it. [Footnote:
Perhaps the most striking instances of this kind of criticism, both
on its strong and its weak side, are to be found in the writings of
Mazzini. See _Opere_, ii. and iv.]

In reversing the relation, in reading history by the light of
literature, the danger is not so great. The man of genius may, and
does, see deeper than his contemporaries; but, for that very reason,
he is a surer guide to the tendencies of his time than they. He is
above and beyond his time; but, just in so far as he is so, he sees
over it and through it. As Shakespeare defined it, his "end, both at
the first and now, was and is... to show the very age and body of the
time his form and pressure". Some allowance must doubtless be made for
the individuality of the poet; for the qualities in which he stands
aloof from his time, and in which, therefore, he must not be taken to
reflect it. But to make such allowance is a task not beyond the skill
of the practised critic; and many instances suggest themselves in which
it has, more or less successfully, been done. Witness not a few passages
in Michelet's _Histoire de France_, and some to be found in the various
works of Ranke. [Footnote: As instances may be cited, Michelet's remarks
on Rabelais (tome viii. 428-440) and on Moliere (tome xiii. 51-85):
or again Ranke's _Papste_, i. 486-503 (on Tasso and the artistic
tendencies of the middle of the sixteenth century): _Franzosische
Geschichte_, iii. 345-368 (the age of Louis XIV.).] Witness, again,
Hegel's illustration of the Greek conception of the family from the
_Antigone_ and the _Oedipus_ of Sophocles; or, if we may pass to a
somewhat different field, his "construction" of the French Revolution
from the religious and metaphysical ideas of Rousseau. [Footnote:
Hegel, _Phanomenologie des Geistes_, pp. 323-348, and pp. 426-436.]

So far as it employs literature to give the key to the outward history
of a nation or to the growth of its spiritual faith, it is clear that
the historical method ceases to be, in the strict sense of the word,
a literary instrument. It implies certainly that a literary judgment
has been passed; but, once passed, that judgment is used for ends that
lie altogether apart from the interests of literature. But it is idle
to consider that literature loses caste by lending itself to such a
purpose. It would be wiser to say that it gains by anything that may
add to its fruitfulness and instructiveness. In any case, and whether
it pleases us or no, this is one of the things that the historical
method has done for literature; and neither Carlyle, nor any other
thinker of the century, would have been minded to disavow it.

This brings us to the second point that calls for remark in the
foregoing quotation from Carlyle. Throughout he assumes that the matter
of the poet is no less important than his manner. And here again he
dwells on an aspect of literature that previous, and later, critics
have tended to throw into the shade. That Carlyle should have been led
to assert, and even at times to exaggerate, the claims of thought in
imaginative work was inevitable; and that, not only from his
temperament, but from those principles of his teaching that we have
already noticed. If the poetry of a nation be indeed the expression
of its spiritual aims, then it is clear that among those aims must be
numbered its craving to make the world intelligible to itself, and to
comprehend the working of God both within man and around him. Not that
Carlyle shows any disposition to limit "thought" to its more abstract
forms; on the contrary, it is on the sense of "music, love, and beauty"
that he specially insists. What he does demand is that these shall be
not merely outward adornments, but the instinctive utterance of a
deeper harmony within; that they shall be such as not merely to "furnish
a languid mind with fantastic shows and indolent emotions, but to
incorporate the everlasting reason of man in forms visible to his
sense, and suitable to it". [Footnote: Miscellanies, i. 297.] The
"reason" is no less necessary to poetry than its sensible form; and
whether its utterance be direct or indirect, that is a matter for the
genius of the individual poet to decide. _Gott und Welt_, we may be
sure Carlyle would have said, is poetry as legitimate as _Der Erlkonig_
or the songs of Mignon.

In this connection he more than once appeals to the doctrine of Fichte,
one of the few writers whom he was willing to recognize as his teachers.
"According to Fichte, there is a 'divine idea' pervading the visible
universe; which visible universe is indeed but its symbol and sensible
manifestation, having in itself no meaning, or even true existence
independent of it. To the mass of men this divine idea of the world
lies hidden; yet to discern it, to seize it, and live wholly in it,
is the condition of all genuine virtue, knowledge, freedom; and the
end, therefore, of all spiritual effort in every age. Literary men are
the appointed interpreters of this divine idea; a perpetual priesthood,
we might say, standing forth, generation after generation, as the
dispensers and living types of God's everlasting wisdom, to show it
in their writings and actions, in such particular form as their own
particular times require it in. For each age, by the law of its nature,
is different from every other age, and demands a different
representation of the divine idea, the essence of which is the same
in all; so that the literary man of one century is only by mediation
and reinterpretation applicable to the wants of another." [Footnote:
Ib., p. 69. There is a similar passage in the _Lectures on Heroes_
(Lec. v.), p. 145. In each case the reference is to Fichte's Lectures
_Ueber das Wesen des Gelehrten_ (1805), especially to lectures i.,
ii., and x,; Fichte's Werke, vi. 350-371, 439-447.]

The particular form of Fichte's teaching may still sound unfamiliar
enough. But in substance it has had the deepest influence on the aims
and methods of criticism; and, so far as England is concerned, this
is mainly due to the genius of Carlyle. Compare the criticism of the
last century with that of the present, and we at once see the change
that has come over the temper and instincts of Englishmen in this

When Johnson, or the reviewers of the next generation, quitted--as
they seldom did quit--the ground of external form and regularity and
logical coherence, it was only to ask: Is this work, this poem or this
novel, in conformity with the traditional conventions of respectability,
is it such as can be put into the hands of boys and girls? To them
this was the one ground on which the matter of literature, as apart
from the beggarly elements of its form, could come under the cognizance
of the critic. And this narrowness, a narrowness which belonged at
least in equal measure to the official criticism of the French,
naturally begot a reaction almost as narrow as itself. The cry of "art
for art's sake", a cry raised in France at the moment when Carlyle was
beginning his work in England, must be regarded as a protest against
the moralizing bigotry of the classical school no less than against
its antiquated formalities. The men who raised it were themselves not
free from the charge of formalism; but the forms they worshipped were
at least those inspired by the spontaneous genius of the artist, not
the mechanical rules inherited from the traditions of the past. Nor,
whatever may be the case with those who have taken it up in our own
day, must the cry be pressed too rigorously against the men of 1830.
The very man, on whom it was commonly fathered, was known to disavow
it; and certainly in his own works, in their burning humanity and their
"passion for reforming the world", was the first to set it at defiance.
[Footnote: See Hugo's _William Shakespeare_, p. 288.]

The moralist and the formalist still make their voice heard, and will
always do so. But since Carlyle wrote, it is certain that a wider, a
more fruitful, view of criticism has gained ground among us. And, if
it be asked where lies the precise difference between such a view and
that which satisfied the critics of an earlier day, the answer must
be, that we are no longer contented to rest upon the outward form of
a work of art, still less upon its conventional morality. We demand
to learn what is the idea, of which the outward form is the harmonious
utterance; and which, just because the form is individual, must itself
too have more or less of originality and power. We are resolved to
know what is the artist's peculiar fashion of conceiving life, what
is his insight, that which he has to teach us of God and man and nature.
"Poetry", said Wordsworth, "is the breath and finer spirit of all
knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance
of all Science." [Footnote: Preface to _Lyrical Ballads_ by Wordsworth:
Works, vi. 328.] And Wordsworth is echoed by Shelley. [Footnote: "Poetry
is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference
of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to
which all science must be referred."--Shelley, _Defence of Poetry_,
p. 33.] But it is again to Carlyle that we must turn for the explicit
application of these ideas to criticism:--

"Criticism has assumed a new form...; it proceeds on other principles,
and proposes to itself a higher aim. The grand question is not now a
question concerning the qualities of diction, the coherence of
metaphors, the fitness of sentiments, the general logical truth, in
a work of art, as it was some half-century ago among most critics;
neither is it a question mainly of a psychological sort, to be answered
by discovering and delineating the peculiar nature of the poet from
his poetry, as is usual with the best of our own critics at present:
[Footnote: A striking example of this method, the blending of criticism
with biography, is to be found in Carlyle's own Essay on Burns. The
significance of the method, in such hands as those of Carlyle, is that
it lays stress on the reality, the living force, of the poetry with
which it deals. It was the characteristic method of Sainte-Beuve; and
it may be questioned whether it did not often lead him far enough from
what can properly be called criticism;--into psychological studies,
spiced with scandal, or what a distinguished admirer is kind enough
to call "indiscretions". See M. Brunetiere, _L'Evolution des Genres_,
i. 236. This book is a sketch of the history of criticism in France,
and cannot be too warmly recommended to all who are interested in such
subjects,] but it is--not indeed exclusively, but inclusively of those
two other questions--properly and ultimately a question on the essence
and peculiar life of the poetry itself. The first of these questions,
as we see it answered, for instance, in the criticisms of Johnson and
Kames, relates, strictly speaking, to the _garment_ of poetry: the
second, indeed, to its _body_ and material existence, a much higher
point; but only the last to its _soul_ and spiritual existence, by
which alone can the body... be _informed_ with significance and rational
life. The problem is not now to determine by what mechanism Addison
composed sentences and struck out similitudes; but by what far finer
and more mysterious mechanism Shakespeare organized his dramas, and
gave life and individuality to his Ariel and his Hamlet? Wherein lies
that life; how have they attained that shape and individuality? Whence
comes that empyrean fire, which irradiates their whole being, and
pierces, at least in starry gleams, like a diviner thing, into all
hearts? Are these dramas of his not verisimilar only, but true; nay,
truer than reality itself, since the essence of unmixed reality is
bodied forth in them under more expressive symbols? What is this unity
of theirs; and can our deeper inspection discern it to be indivisible,
and existing by necessity, because each work springs, as it were, from
the general elements of all thought, and grows up therefrom into form
and expansion by its own growth? Not only who was the poet, and how
did he compose; but what and how was the poem, and why was it a poem
and not rhymed eloquence, creation and not figured passion? These are
the questions for the critic." [Footnote: Miscellanies, i. 60, 61
(1827).] And, a few pages later: "As an instance we might refer to
Goethe's criticism of Hamlet.... This truly is what may be called the
poetry of criticism: for it is in some sort also a creative art; aiming,
at least, to reproduce under a different shape the existing product
of the poet; painting to the intellect what already lay painted to the
heart and the imagination." [Footnote: Ib. p. 72.]

Instances of criticism, conceived in this spirit, are unhappily still
rare. But some of Coleridge's on Shakespeare, and some of Lamb's on
the Plays of the Elizabethan Dramatists--in particular _The Duchess
of Malfi_ and _The Broken Heart_--may fairly be ranked among them. So,
and with still less of hesitation, may Mr. Ruskin's rendering of the
_Last Judgment_ of Tintoret, and Mr. Pater's studies on Lionardo,
Michaelangelo, and Giorgione. Of these, Mr. Pater's achievement is
probably the most memorable; for it is an attempt, and an attempt of
surprising power and subtlety, to reproduce not merely the effect of
a single poem or picture, but the imaginative atmosphere, the spiritual
individuality, of the artist. In a sense still higher than would be
true even of the work done by Lamb and Ruskin, it deserves the praise
justly given by Carlyle to the masterpiece of Goethe; it is "the very
poetry of criticism".

We have now reviewed the whole circle traversed by criticism during
the present century, and are in a position to define its limits and
extent. We have seen that a change of method was at once the cause and
indication of a change in spirit and in aim. The narrow range of the
eighteenth century was enlarged on the one hand by the study of new
literatures, and on the other hand by that appeal to history, and that
idea of development which has so profoundly modified every field of
thought and knowledge. In that lay the change of method. And this, in
itself, was enough to suggest a wider tolerance, a greater readiness
to make allowance for differences of taste, whether as between nation
and nation or as between period and period, than had been possible for
men whose view was practically limited to Latin literature and to such
modern literatures as were professedly moulded upon the Latin. With
such diversity of material, the absolute standard, absurd enough in
any case, became altogether impossible to maintain. It was replaced
by the conception of a common instinct for beauty, modified in each
nation by the special circumstances of its temperament and history.

But even this does not cover the whole extent of the revolution in
critical ideas. Side by side with a more tolerant--and, it may be
added, a keener--judgment of artistic form, came a clearer sense of
the inseparable connection between form and matter, and the
impossibility of comprehending the form, if it be taken apart from the
matter, of a work of art. This, too, was in part the natural effect
of the historical method, one result of which was to establish a closer
correspondence between the thought of a nation and its art than had
hitherto been suspected. But it was in part also a consequence of the
intellectual and spiritual revolution of which Rousseau was the herald
and which, during fifty years, found in German philosophy at once its
strongest inspiration and its most articulate expression. Men were no
longer satisfied to explain to themselves what Carlyle calls the
"garment" and the "body" of art; they set themselves to pierce through
these to the soul and spirit within. They instinctively felt that the
art which lives is the art that gives man something to live by; and
that, just because its form is more significant than other of man's
utterances, it must have a deeper significance also in substance and
in purport. Of this purport _Criticism of life_--the phrase suggested
by one who was at once a poet and a critic--is doubtless an unhappy,
because a pedantic definition; and it is rather creation of life, than
the criticism of it, that art has to offer. But it must be life in all
its fulness and variety; as thought, no less than as action; as energy,
no less than as beauty--

  As power, as love, as influencing soul.

This is the mission of art; and to unfold its working in the art of
all times and of all nations, to set it forth by intuition, by patient
reason, by every means at his command, is the function of the critic.
To have seen this, and to have marked out the way for its performance,
is not the least among the services rendered by Carlyle to his own
generation and to ours. Later critics can hardly be said to have yet
filled out the design that he laid. They have certainly not gone beyond





The _Apologie_ was probably written about 1580; Gosson's pamphlet,
which clearly suggested it, having appeared in 1579. Nothing need here
be added to what has been said in the Introduction.

When the right virtuous Edward Wotton and I were at the emperor's court
together, we gave ourselves to learn horsemanship of John Pietro
Pugliano: one that with great commendation had the place of an esquire
in his stable. And he, according to the fertileness of the Italian
wit, did not only afford us the demonstration of his practice, but
sought to enrich our minds with the contemplations therein, which he
thought most precious. But with none I remember mine ears were at any
time more laden, than when (either angered with slow payment, or moved
with our learner-like admiration) he exercised his speech in the praise
of his faculty. He said, soldiers were the noblest estate of mankind,
and horsemen, the noblest of soldiers. He said, they were the masters
of war, and ornaments of peace: speedy goers, and strong abiders,
triumphers both in camps and courts. Nay, to so unbelieved a point he
proceeded, as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a prince, as
to be a good horseman. Skill of government was but a pedanteria in
comparison: then would he add certain praises, by telling what a
peerless beast a horse was. The only serviceable courtier without
flattery, the beast of most beauty, faithfulness, courage, and such
more, that, if I had not been a piece of a logician before I came to
him, I think he would have persuaded me to have wished myself a horse.
But thus much at least with his no few words he drove into me, that
self-love is better than any gilding to make that seem gorgeous, wherein
ourselves are parties. Wherein, if Pugliano his strong affection and
weak arguments will not satisfy you, I will give you a nearer example
of myself, who (I know not by what mischance) in these my not old years
and idlest times, having slipped into the title of a poet, am provoked
to say something unto you in the defence of that my unelected vocation;
which if I handle with more good will than good reasons, bear with me,
sith the scholar is to be pardoned that followeth the steps of his
master. And yet I must say that, as I have just cause to make a pitiful
defence of poor poetry, which from almost the highest estimation of
learning is fallen to be the laughing-stock of children, so have I
need to bring some more available proofs: sith the former is by no man
barred of his deserved credit, the silly latter hath had even the names
of philosophers used to the defacing of it, with great danger of civil
war among the muses. And first, truly to all them that professing
learning inveigh against poetry may justly be objected, that they go
very near to ungratefulness, to seek to deface that which, in the
noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first
light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and
little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges: and will
they now play the hedgehog that, being received into the den, drove
out his host? or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their
parents? Let learned Greece in any of her manifold sciences, be able
to show me one book, before Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiodus, all three
nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history be brought, that can say
any writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same
skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some other are named: who having been
the first of that country, that made pens deliverers of their knowledge
to their posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers
in learning: for not only in time they had this priority (although in
itself antiquity be venerable) but went before them, as causes to draw
with their charming sweetness the wild untamed wits to an admiration
of knowledge. So as Amphion was said to move stone with his poetry,
to build Thebes. And Orpheus to be listened to by beasts indeed, stony
and beastly people. So among the Romans were Livius Andronicus, and
Ennius. So in the Italian language, the first that made it aspire to
be a treasure-house of science were the poets Dante, Boccace, and
Petrarch. So in our English were Gower and Chaucer.

After whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent foregoing,
others have followed, to beautify our mother tongue, as well in the
same kind as in other arts. This did so notably show itself, that the
philosophers of Greece durst not a long time appear to the world but
under the masks of poets. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang
their natural philosophy in verses: so did Pythagoras and Phocylides
their moral counsels: so did Tyrtaus in war matters, and Solon in
matters of policy: or rather, they being poets, did exercise their
delightful vein in those points of highest knowledge, which before
them lay hid to the world. For that wise Solon was directly a poet,
it is manifest, having written in verse the notable fable of the
Atlantic Island, which was continued by Plato.

And truly, even Plato, whosoever well considereth, shall find, that
in the body of his work, though the inside and strength were philosophy,
the skin as it were and beauty depended most of poetry: for all standeth
upon dialogues, wherein he feigneth many honest burgesses of Athens
to speak of such matters, that if they had been set on the rack, they
would never have confessed them. Besides, his poetical describing the
circumstances of their meetings, as the well ordering of a banquet,
the delicacy of a walk, with interlacing mere tales, as Gyges' ring,
and others, which who knows not to be the flowers of poetry, did never
walk into Apollo's garden.

And even historiographers (although their lips sound of things done,
and verity be written in their foreheads) have been glad to borrow
both fashion, and perchance weight, of poets. So Herodotus entitled
his history by the name of the nine Muses: and both he, and all the
rest that followed him, either stole or usurped of poetry their
passionate describing of passions, the many particularities of battles,
which no man could affirm: or if that be denied me, long orations put
in the mouths of great kings and captains, which it is certain they
never pronounced. So that truly, neither philosopher nor historiographer
could at the first have entered into the gates of popular judgments,
if they had not taken a great passport of poetry, which, in all nations
at this day where learning flourisheth not, is plain to be seen: in
all which they have some feeling of poetry. In Turkey, besides their
law-giving divines, they have no other writers but poets. In our
neighbour country Ireland, where truly learning goeth very bare, yet
are their poets held in a devout reverence. Even among the most
barbarous and simple Indians where no writing is, yet have they their
poets, who make and sing songs which they call areytos, both of their
ancestors' deeds, and praises of their Gods. A sufficient probability,
that, if ever learning come among them, it must be by having their
hard dull wits softened and sharpened with the sweet delights of poetry.
For until they find a pleasure in the exercises of the mind, great
promises of much knowledge will little persuade them, that know not
the fruits of knowledge. In Wales, the true remnant of the ancient
Britons, as there are good authorities to show the long time they had
poets, which they called bards: so through all the conquests of Romans,
Saxons, Danes, and Normans, some of whom did seek to ruin all memory
of learning from among them, yet do their poets, even to this day,
last; so as it is not more notable in soon beginning than in long
continuing. But since the authors of most of our sciences were the
Romans, and before them the Greeks, let us a little stand upon their
authorities, but even so far as to see what names they have given unto
this now scorned skill.

Among the Romans a poet was called _vates_, which is as much as a
diviner, fore-seer, or prophet, as by his conjoined words _vaticinium_
and _vaticinari_ is manifest: so heavenly a title did that excellent
people bestow upon this heart-ravishing knowledge. And so far were
they carried into the admiration thereof, that they thought in the
chanceable hitting upon any such verses great foretokens of their
following fortunes were placed. Whereupon grew the word of _Sortes
Virgilianae_, when, by sudden opening Virgil's book, they lighted upon
any verse of his making, whereof the histories of the emperors' lives
are full: as of Albinus the governor of our island, who in his childhood
met with this verse

  _Arma amens capio nee sat rationis in armis:_

and in his age performed it; which although it were a very vain and
godless superstition, as also it was to think that spirits were
commanded by such verses (whereupon this word charms, derived of
_Carmina_, cometh), so yet serveth it to show the great reverence those
wits were held in. And altogether not without ground, since both the
oracles of Delphos and Sibylla's prophecies were wholly delivered in
verses. For that same exquisite observing of number and measure in
words, and that high-flying liberty of conceit proper to the Poet, did
seem to have some divine force in it.

And may not I presume a little further, to show the reasonableness of
this word _vates_? And say that the holy David's Psalms are a divine
poem? If I do, I shall not do it without the testimony of great learned
men, both ancient and modern: but even the name Psalms will speak for
me; which being interpreted is nothing but songs. Then that it is fully
written in metre, as all learned Hebricians agree, although the rules
be not yet fully found. Lastly and principally, his handling his
prophecy, which is merely poetical. For what else is the awaking his
musical instruments? The often and free changing of persons? His notable
prosopopeias, when he maketh you, as it were, see God coming in His
majesty? His telling of the beasts' joyfulness, and hills leaping, but
a heavenly poesy: wherein almost he showeth himself a passionate lover
of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty to be seen by the eyes of
the mind, only cleared by faith? But truly now having named him, I
fear me I seem to profane that holy name, applying it to poetry, which
is among us thrown down to so ridiculous an estimation: but they that
with quiet judgments will look a little deeper into it, shall find the
end and working of it such as, being rightly applied, deserveth not
to be scourged out of the Church of God.

But now, let us see how the Greeks named it, and how they deemed of
it. The Greeks called him a poet, which name hath, as the most
excellent, gone through other languages. It cometh of this word
_poiein_, which is, to make: wherein I know not, whether by luck or
wisdom, we Englishmen have met with the Greeks, in calling him a maker:
which name, how high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather were
known by marking the scope of other sciences, than by my partial

There is no art delivered to mankind, that hath not the works of nature
for his principal object, without which they could not consist, and
on which they so depend, as they become actors and players, as it were,
of what nature will have set forth. So doth the astronomer look upon
the stars, and by that he seeth, setteth down what order nature hath
taken therein. So do the geometrician, and arithmetician, in their
diverse sorts of quantities. So doth the musician, in times, tell you
which by nature agree, which not. The natural philosopher thereon hath
his name, and the moral philosopher standeth upon the natural virtues,
vices, and passions of man; and follow nature (saith he) therein, and
thou shalt not err. The lawyer saith what men have determined. The
historian what men have done. The grammarian speaketh only of the rules
of speech; and the rhetorician, and logician, considering what in
nature will soonest prove and persuade, thereon give artificial rules,
which still are compassed within the circle of a question, according
to the proposed matter. The physician weigheth the nature of a man's
body, and the nature of things helpful, or hurtful unto it. And the
metaphysic, though it be in the second and abstract notions, and
therefore be counted supernatural, yet doth he indeed build upon the
depth of nature: only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such
subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow
in effect another nature, in making things either better than nature
bringeth forth, or quite anew forms such as never were in nature, as
the heroes, demigods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like: so as
he goeth hand in hand with nature, not inclosed within the narrow
warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging only within the zodiac of his
own wit.

Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry, as divers poets
have done, neither with pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling
flowers: nor whatsoever else may make the too much loved earth more
lovely. Her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden: but let
those things alone and go to man, for whom as the other things are,
so it seemeth in him her uttermost cunning is employed, and know whether
she have brought forth so true a lover as Theagenes, so constant a
friend as Pylades, so valiant a man as Orlando, so right a prince as
Xenophon's Cyrus: so excellent a man every way, as Virgil's Aneas.
Neither let this be jestingly conceived, because the works of the one
be essential, the other, in imitation or fiction; for any understanding
knoweth the skill of the artificer standeth in that idea or fore-conceit
of the work, and not in the work itself. And that the poet hath that
idea, is manifest, by delivering them forth in such excellency as he
hath imagined them. Which delivering forth also is not wholly
imaginative, as we are wont to say by them that build castles in the
air: but so far substantially it worketh, not only to make a Cyrus,
which had been but a particular excellency, as Nature might have done,
but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world, to make many Cyruses, if they
will learn aright, why and how that maker made him.

Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance the highest
point of man's wit with the efficacy of Nature: but rather give right
honour to the heavenly Maker of that maker: who, having made man to
his own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second
nature, which in nothing he showeth so much as in poetry: when, with
the force of a divine breath, he bringeth things forth far surpassing
her doings, with no small argument to the incredulous of that first
accursed fall of Adam; sith our erected wit maketh us know what
perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth us from reaching unto
it. But these arguments will by few be understood, and by fewer granted.
Thus much (I hope) will be given me, that the Greeks, with some
probability of reason, gave him the name above all names of learning.
Now let us go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth may
be more palpable: and so I hope, though we get not so unmatched a
praise as the etymology of his names will grant, yet his very
description, which no man will deny, shall not justly be barred from
a principal commendation.

Poesy, therefore, is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it
in his word _Mimesis_, that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting,
or figuring forth: to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture: with
this end, to teach and delight; of this have been three several kinds.
The chief both in antiquity and excellency, were they that did imitate
the inconceivable excellencies of God. Such were David in his Psalms,
Solomon in his Song of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs: Moses
and Deborah, in their hymns, and the writer of Job; which, beside
other, the learned Emanuel Tremilius and Franciscus Junius do entitle
the poetical part of Scripture. Against these none will speak that
hath the Holy Ghost in due holy reverence.

In this kind, though in a full wrong divinity, were Orpheus, Amphion,
Homer in his hymns, and many other, both Greeks and Romans: and this
poesy must be used by whosoever will follow St. James his counsel, in
singing psalms when they are merry: and I know is used with the fruit
of comfort by some, when, in sorrowful pangs of their death-bringing
sins, they find the consolation of the never-leaving goodness.

The second kind, is of them that deal with matters philosophical;
either moral, as Tyrtaus, Phocylides, and Cato: or natural, as Lucretius
and Virgil's _Georgics_; or astronomical, as Manilius, and Pontanus;
or historical, as Lucan; which who mislike, the fault is in their
judgments quite out of taste, and not in the sweet food of
sweetly-uttered knowledge. But because this second sort is wrapped
within the fold of the proposed subject, and takes not the course of
his own invention, whether they properly be poets or no, let grammarians
dispute; and go to the third, indeed right poets, of whom chiefly this
question ariseth; betwixt whom and these second is such a kind of
difference, as betwixt the meaner sort of painters (who counterfeit
only such faces as are set before them) and the more excellent; who,
having no law but wit, bestow that in colours upon you which is fittest
for the eye to see; as the constant, though lamenting look of Lucretia,
when she punished in herself another's fault.

Wherein he painteth not Lucretia whom he never saw, but painteth the
outward beauty of such a virtue: for these third be they which most
properly do imitate to teach and delight; and, to imitate, borrow
nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be: but range, only reined
with learned discretion, into the divine consideration of what may be,
and should be. These be they that, as the first and most noble sort
may justly be termed Vates, so these are waited on in the excellentest
languages and best understandings, with the fore-described name of
poets: for these indeed do merely make to imitate: and imitate both
to delight and teach: and delight to move men to take that goodness
in hand, which without delight they would fly as from a stranger: and
teach, to make them know that goodness whereunto they are moved, which
being the noblest scope to which ever any learning was directed, yet
want there not idle tongues to bark at them. These be subdivided into
sundry more special denominations. The most notable be the heroic,
lyric, tragic, comic, satiric, iambic, elegiac, pastoral, and certain
others. Some of these being termed according to the matter they deal
with, some by the sorts of verses they liked best to write in, for
indeed the greatest part of poets have apparelled their poetical
inventions in that numbrous kind of writing which is called verse:
indeed but apparelled, verse being but an ornament and no cause to
poetry: sith there have been many most excellent poets that never
versified, and now swarm many versifiers that need never answer to the
name of poets. For Xenophon, who did imitate so excellently, as to
give us _effigiem justi imperii_ the portraiture of a just empire under
the name of Cyrus (as Cicero says of him), made therein an absolute
heroical poem.

So did Heliodorus in his sugared invention of that picture of love in
Theagenes and Chariclea, and yet both these wrote in prose: which I
speak to show, that it is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet,
no more than a long gown maketh an advocate: who, though he pleaded
in armour, should be an advocate and no soldier. But it is that feigning
notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful
teaching which must be the right describing note to know a poet by:
although, indeed, the senate of poets hath chosen verse as their fittest
raiment, meaning, as in matter they passed all in all, so in manner
to go beyond them: not speaking (table-talk fashion, or like men in
a dream) words as they chanceably fall from the mouth, but peyzing
[Footnote: weighing.] each syllable of each word by just proportion
according to the dignity of the subject.

Now, therefore, it shall not be amiss first to weigh this latter sort
of poetry by his works, and then by his parts; and if in neither of
these anatomies he be condemnable, I hope we shall obtain a more
favourable sentence. This purifying of wit, this enriching of memory,
enabling of judgment, and enlarging of conceit, which commonly we call
learning, under what name soever it come forth, or to what immediate
end soever it be directed, the final end is, to lead and draw us to
as high a perfection, as our degenerate souls made worse by their
clayey lodgings, can be capable of. This, according to the inclination
of the man, bred many formed impressions; for some that thought this
felicity principally to be gotten by knowledge, and no knowledge to
be so high and heavenly as acquaintance with the stars, gave themselves
to astronomy; others, persuading themselves to be demigods if they
knew the causes of things, became natural and supernatural philosophers;
some an admirable delight drew to music; and some the certainty of
demonstration, to the mathematics. But all, one and other, having this
scope to know, and by knowledge to lift up the mind from the dungeon
of the body, to the enjoying his own divine essence. But when by the
balance of experience it was found, that the astronomer looking to the
stars might fall into a ditch, that the inquiring philosopher might
be blind in himself, and the mathematician might draw forth a straight
line with a crooked heart: then lo, did proof the overruler of opinions
make manifest that all these are but serving sciences, which, as they
have each a private end in themselves, so yet are they all directed
to the highest end of the mistress knowledge, by the Greeks called
_Arkitektonike_, which stands (as I think) in the knowledge of a man's
self, in the ethic and politic consideration, with the end of
well-doing, and not of well-knowing only; even as the saddler's next
end is to make a good saddle: but his farther end, to serve a nobler
faculty, which is horsemanship: so the horseman's to soldiery, and the
soldier not only to have the skill, but to perform the practice of a
soldier: so that the ending end of all earthly learning, being virtuous
action, those skills that most serve to bring forth that, have a most
just title to be princes over all the rest. Wherein if we can show the
poet's nobleness, by setting him before his other competitors, among
whom as principal challengers step forth the moral philosophers, whom
methinketh I see coming towards me with a sullen gravity, as though
they could not abide vice by daylight, rudely clothed for to witness
outwardly their contempt of outward things, with books in their hands
against glory, whereto they set their names, sophistically speaking
against subtlety, and angry with any man in whom they see the foul
fault of anger; these men casting largess as they go, of definitions,
divisions, and distinctions, with a scornful interrogative, do soberly
ask, whether it be possible to find any path, so ready to lead a man
to virtue, as that which teacheth what virtue is? and teacheth it not
only by delivering forth his very being, his causes, and effects: but
also, by making known his enemy vice, which must be destroyed, and his
cumbersome servant passion, which must be mastered, by showing the
generalities that contain it, and the specialities that are derived
from it: lastly, by plain setting down, how it extendeth itself out
of the limits of a man's own little world, to the government of families
and maintaining of public societies. [Footnote: A principal clause--_It
will be well_, or some equivalent--is unhappily lacking to this long

The historian scarcely giveth leisure to the moralist, to say so much,
but that he, laden with old mouse-eaten records, authorizing himself
(for the most part) upon other histories, whose greatest authorities
are built upon the notable foundation of hearsay, having much ado to
accord differing writers, and to pick truth out of partiality, better
acquainted with a thousand years ago than with the present age, and
yet better knowing how this world goeth than how his own wit runneth,
curious for antiquities and inquisitive of novelties, a wonder to young
folks, and a tyrant in table-talk, denieth in a great chafe that any
man, for teaching of virtue and virtuous actions, is comparable to
him. I am _Lux vitae_, _Temporum Magistra_, _Vita memoriae_, _Nuncia
vetustatis_, &c.

The philosopher (saith he) teacheth a disputative virtue, but I do an
active: his virtue is excellent in the dangerless academy of Plato,
but mine showeth forth her honourable face in the battles of Marathon,
Pharsalia, Poitiers, and Agincourt. He teacheth virtue by certain
abstract considerations, but I only bid you follow the footing of them
that have gone before you. Old-aged experience goeth beyond the fine-
witted philosopher, but I give the experience of many ages. Lastly,
if he make the songbook, I put the learner's hand to the lute; and if
he be the guide, I am the light.

Then would he allege you innumerable examples, conferring story by
story, how much the wisest senators and princes have been directed by
the credit of history, as Brutus, Alphonsus of Aragon, and who not,
if need be? At length the long line of their disputation maketh a point
in this, that the one giveth the precept, and the other the example.

Now, whom shall we find (sith the question standeth for the highest
form in the school of learning) to be moderator? Truly, as me seemeth,
the poet; and if not a moderator, even the man that ought to carry the
title from them both, and much more from all other serving sciences.
Therefore compare we the poet with the historian and with the moral
philosopher, and, if he go beyond them both, no other human skill can
match him. For as for the divine, with all reverence it is ever to be
excepted, not only for having his scope as far beyond any of these,
as eternity exceedeth a moment, but even for passing each of these in

And for the lawyer, though _Jus_ be the daughter of Justice, and Justice
the chief of virtues, yet because he seeketh to make men good, rather
_Formidine poenae_ than _Virtutis amore_ or to say righter, doth not
endeavour to make men good, but that their evil hurt not others: having
no care, so he be a good citizen, how bad a man he be. Therefore, as
our wickedness maketh him necessary, and necessity maketh him
honourable, so is he not in the deepest truth to stand in rank with
these, who all endeavour to take naughtiness away, and plant goodness
even in the secretest cabinet of our souls. And these four are all
that any way deal in that consideration of men's manners, which being
the supreme knowledge, they that best breed it deserve the best

The philosopher therefore and the historian are they which would win
the goal: the one by precept, the other by example. But both not having
both, do both halt. For the philosopher, setting down with thorny
argument the bare rule, is so hard of utterance, and so misty to be
conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him shall wade in him
till he be old before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest; for
his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general, that happy
is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what
he doth understand.

On the other side, the historian wanting the precept is so tied, not
to what should be, but to what is, to the particular truth of things,
and not to the general reason of things, that his example draweth no
necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine.

Now doth the peerless poet perform both: for whatsoever the philosopher
saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it in some one,
by whom he presupposeth it was done. So as he coupleth the general
notion with the particular example. A perfect picture, I say; for he
yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the
philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description: which doth neither
strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul so much as that other

For as in outward things, to a man that had never seen an elephant or
a rhinoceros, who should tell him most exquisitely all their shapes,
colour, bigness, and particular marks; or of a gorgeous palace, the
architecture; with declaring the full beauties, might well make the
hearer able to repeat, as it were by rote, all he had heard, yet should
never satisfy his inward conceits, with being witness to itself of a
true lively knowledge: but the same man, as soon as he might see those
beasts well painted, or the house well in model, should straightway
grow without need of any description, to a judicial comprehending of
them: so no doubt the philosopher with his learned definition, be it
of virtue, vices, matters of public policy or private government,
replenisheth the memory with many infallible grounds of wisdom: which,
notwithstanding, lie dark before the imaginative and judging power,
if they be not illuminated or figured forth by the speaking picture
of poesy.

Tully taketh much pains and many times not without poetical helps, to
make us know the force love of our country hath in us. Let us but hear
old Anchises speaking in the midst of Troy's flames, or see Ulysses,
in the fulness of all Calypso's delights, bewail his absence from
barren and beggarly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoics say, was a short madness;
let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, killing and whipping sheep
and oxen, thinking them the army of Greeks, with their chieftains
Agamemnon and Menelaus, and tell me if you have not a more familiar
insight into anger, than finding in the schoolmen his genus and
difference. See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulysses and Diomedes,
valour in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Euryalus, even to an
ignorant man, carry not an apparent shining: and contrarily, the remorse
of conscience in Odipus, the soon repenting pride of Agamemnon, the
self-devouring cruelty in his father Atreus, the violence of ambition
in the two Theban brothers, the sour-sweetness of revenge in Medea,
and to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho and our Chaucer's Pandar, so
expressed, that we now use their names to signify their trades. And
finally, all virtues, vices, and passions so in their own natural seats
laid to the view, that we seem not to hear of them, but clearly to see
through them. But even in the most excellent determination of goodness,
what philosopher's counsel can so readily detect a prince, as the
feigned Cyrus in Xenophon? or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as Aneas
in Virgil? or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas More's
Utopia? I say the way; because where Sir Thomas More erred, it was the
fault of the man and not of the poet; for that way of patterning a
commonwealth was most absolute, though he perchance hath not so
absolutely performed it: for the question is, whether the feigned image
of poesy, or the regular instruction of philosophy, hath the more force
in teaching; wherein if the philosophers have more rightly showed
themselves philosophers than the poets have obtained to the high top
of their profession, as in truth

                   _Mediocribus esse poetis,
  Non Di, non homines, non concessere columna:_

it is I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that
art can be accomplished.

Certainly, even our Saviour Christ could as well have given the moral
commonplaces of uncharitableness and humbleness, as the divine narration
of Dives and Lazarus: or of disobedience and mercy, as that heavenly
discourse of the lost child and the gracious Father; but that his
through-searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives burning in hell, and
of Lazarus being in Abraham's bosom, would more constantly (as it were)
inhabit both the memory and judgment. Truly, for myself, meseems I see
before my eyes the lost child's disdainful prodigality, turned to envy
a swine's dinner: which by the learned divines are thought not
historical acts, but instructing parables. For conclusion, I say the
philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned
only can understand him: that is to say, he teacheth them that are
already taught, but the poet is the food for the tenderest stomachs,
the poet is indeed the right popular philosopher, whereof Asop's tales
give good proof: whose pretty allegories, stealing under the formal
tales of beasts, make many, more beastly than beasts, begin to hear
the sound of virtue from these dumb speakers.

But now may it be alleged that, if this imagining of matters be so fit
for the imagination, then must the historian needs surpass, who bringeth
you images of true matters, such as indeed were done, and not such as
fantastically or falsely may be suggested to have been done. Truly
Aristotle himself in his discourse of poesy, plainly determineth this
question, saying that poetry is _philosophoteron_ and _spoudaioteron_,
that is to say, it is more philosophical, and more studiously serious,
than history. His reason is, because poesy dealeth with _katholou,_
that is to say, with the universal consideration; and the history with
_kathekaston,_ the particular; now saith he, the universal weighs what
is fit to be said or done, either in likelihood or necessity (which
the poesy considereth in his imposed names), and the particular only
marks, whether Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that. Thus far
Aristotle: which reason of his (as all his) is most full of reason.
For indeed, if the question were whether it were better to have a
particular act truly or falsely set down, there is no doubt which is
to be chosen, no more than whether you had rather have Vespasian's
picture right as he was, or at the painter's pleasure nothing
resembling. But if the question be for your own use and learning,
whether it be better to have it set down as it should be, or as it
was: then certainly is more doctrinable the feigned Cyrus of Xenophon
than the true Cyrus in Justin: and the feigned Aeneas in Virgil, than
the right Aeneas in Dares Phrygius.

As to a lady that desired to fashion her countenance to the best grace,
a painter should more benefit her to portrait a most sweet face, writing
Canidia upon it, than to paint Canidia as she was, who, Horace sweareth,
was foul and ill-favoured.

If the poet do his part aright, he will show you in Tantalus, Atreus,
and such like, nothing that is not to be shunned. In Cyrus, Aeneas,
Ulysses, each thing to be followed; where the historian, bound to tell
things as things were, cannot be liberal (without he will be poetical)
of a perfect pattern: but as in Alexander or Scipio himself, show
doings, some to be liked, some to be misliked. And then how will you
discern what to follow but by your own discretion, which you had without
reading Quintus Curtius? And whereas a man may say, though in universal
consideration of doctrine the poet prevaileth, yet that the history,
in his saying such a thing was done, doth warrant a man more in that
he shall follow; the answer is manifest: that if he stand upon that
was; as if he should argue, because it rained yesterday, therefore it
should rain to-day; then indeed it hath some advantage to a gross
conceit: but if he know an example only informs a conjectured
likelihood, and so go by reason, the poet doth so far exceed him, as
he is to frame his example to that which is most reasonable: be it in
warlike, politic, or private matters; where the historian in his bare
Was, hath many times that which we call fortune, to overrule the best
wisdom. Many times he must tell events, whereof he can yield no cause:
or if he do, it must be poetical; for that a feigned example hath as
much force to teach, as a true example (for as for to move, it is
clear, sith the feigned may be tuned to the highest key of passion),
let us take one example, wherein a poet and a historian do concur.

Herodotus and Justin do both testify that Zopyrus, King Darius' faithful
servant, seeing his master long resisted by the rebellious Babylonians,
feigned himself in extreme disgrace of his king: for verifying of
which, he caused his own nose and ears to be cut off: and so flying
to the Babylonians, was received: and for his known valour so far
credited, that he did find means to deliver them over to Darius. Much
like matter doth Livy record of Tarquinius and his son. Xenophon
excellently feigneth such another stratagem, performed by Abradates
in Cyrus' behalf. Now would I fain know, if occasion be presented unto
you, to serve your prince by such an honest dissimulation, why you do
not as well learn it of Xenophon's fiction, as of the others' verity:
and truly so much the better, as you shall save your nose by the
bargain: for Abradates did not counterfeit so far. So then the best
of the historian is subject to the poet; for whatsoever action or
faction, whatsoever counsel, policy or war stratagem, the historian
is bound to recite, that may the poet (if he list) with his imitation
make his own; beautifying it both for further teaching, and more
delighting, as it pleaseth him: having all, from Dante his heaven, to
his hell, under the authority of his pen. Which if I be asked what
poets have done so, as I might well name some, yet say I, and say
again, I speak of the art, and not of the artificer.

Now to that which commonly is attributed to the praise of histories,
in respect of the notable learning is gotten by marking the success,
as though therein a man should see virtue exalted, and vice punished;
truly that commendation is peculiar to poetry, and far off from history.
For indeed poetry ever setteth virtue so out in her best colours,
making fortune her well-waiting handmaid, that one must needs be
enamoured of her. Well may you see Ulysses in a storm and in other
hard plights; but they are but exercises of patience and magnanimity,
to make them shine the more in the near-following prosperity. And of
the contrary part, if evil men come to the stage, they ever go out (as
the tragedy writer answered, to one that misliked the show of such
persons) so manacled, as they little animate folks to follow them. But
the historian, being captived to the truth of a foolish world, is many
times a terror from well-doing, and an encouragement to unbridled

For see we not valiant Miltiades rot in his fetters? The just Phocion,
and the accomplished Socrates, put to death like traitors? The cruel
Severus live prosperously? The excellent Severus miserably murdered?
[Footnote: Of the two Severi, the earlier, who persecuted the
Christians, was emperor 194-210; the later (Alexander), who favoured
them, 222-235.] Sulla and Marius dying in their beds? Pompey and Cicero
slain then, when they would have thought exile a happiness?

See we not virtuous Cato driven to kill himself? and rebel Caesar so
advanced, that his name yet after 1600 years, lasteth in the highest
honour? And mark but even Caesar's own words of the fore-named Sulla,
(who in that only did honestly, to put down his dishonest tyranny,)
_literas nescivit_, as if want of learning caused him to do well. He
meant it not by poetry, which not content with earthly plagues deviseth
new punishments in hell for tyrants: nor yet by philosophy, which
teacheth _occidendos esse_: but no doubt by skill in history: for that
indeed can afford your Cypselus, Periander, Phalaris, Dionysius, and
I know not how many more of the same kennel, that speed well enough
in their abominable unjustice or usurpation. I conclude therefore that
he excelleth history, not only in furnishing the mind with knowledge,
but in setting it forward, to that which deserveth to be called and
accounted good: which setting forward, and moving to well-doing, indeed
setteth the laurel crown upon the poet as victorious, not only of the
historian, but over the philosopher: howsoever in teaching it may be

For suppose it be granted (that which I suppose with great reason may
be denied) that the philosopher, in respect of his methodical
proceeding, doth teach more perfectly than the poet; yet do I think
that no man is so much _philophilosophos_, [Footnote: in love with
philosophy.] as to compare the philosopher, in moving, with the poet.

And that moving is of a higher degree than teaching, it may by this
appear: that it is well-nigh the cause and the effect of teaching. For
who will be taught, if he be not moved with desire to be taught? and
what so much good doth that teaching bring forth (I speak still of
moral doctrine) as that it moveth one to do that which it doth teach?
for as Aristotle saith, it is not _Gnosis_ but _Praxis_ [Footnote: not
knowledge but action.] must be the fruit. And how _Praxis_ cannot be,
without being moved to practice, it is no hard matter to consider.

The philosopher showeth you the way, he informeth you of the
particularities; as well of the tediousness of the way, as of the
pleasant lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the
many by-turnings that may divert you from your way. But this is to no
man but to him that will read him, and read him with attentive studious
painfulness. Which constant desire, whosoever hath in him, hath already
passed half the hardness of the way, and therefore is beholding to the
philosopher but for the other half. Nay truly, learned men have
learnedly thought, that where once reason hath so much overmastered
passion, as that the mind hath a free desire to do well, the inward
light each mind hath in itself is as good as a philosopher's book;
seeing in nature we know it is well to do well, and what is well, and
what is evil, although not in the words of art, which philosophers
bestow upon us. For out of natural conceit, the philosophers drew it;
but to be moved to do that which we know, or to be moved with desire
to know, _Hoc opus, hic labor est_.

Now therein of all sciences (I speak still of human, and according to
the human conceits), is our poet the Monarch. For he doth not only
show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will
entice any man to enter into it. Nay, he doth as if your journey should
lie through a fair vineyard, at the first give you a cluster of grapes:
that, full of that taste, you may long to pass further. He beginneth
not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with
interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness: but he cometh
to you with words sent in delightful proportion, either accompanied
with, or prepared for the well enchanting skill of music; and with a
tale forsooth he cometh unto you: with a tale which holdeth children
from play, and old men from the chimney corner. And pretending no more,
doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue: even
as the child is often brought to take most wholesome things, by hiding
them in such other as have a pleasant taste: which, if one should begin
to tell them the nature of Aloes or Rhubarb they should receive, would
sooner take their physic at their ears than at their mouth. So it is
in men (most of which are childish in the best things, till they be
cradled in their graves), glad they will be to hear the tales of
Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, and Aneas; and hearing them, must needs
hear the right description of wisdom, valour, and justice; which, if
they had been barely, that is to say philosophically, set out, they
would swear they be brought to school again.

That imitation, whereof poetry is, hath the most conveniency to Nature
of all other, insomuch, that as Aristotle saith, those things which
in themselves are horrible, as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, are
made in poetical imitation delightful. Truly I have known men that,
even with reading _Amadis de Gaule_ (which God knoweth wanteth much
of a perfect poesy), have found their hearts moved to the exercise of
courtesy, liberality, and especially courage.

Who readeth Aneas carrying old Anchises on his back, that wisheth not
it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act? Whom do not the
words of Turnus move? (the tale of Turnus having planted his image in
the imagination)--

             _Fugientem hoec terra videbit;
   Usque adeone mori miserum est?_

Where the philosophers, as they scorn to delight, so must they be
content little to move: saving wrangling, whether virtue be the chief,
or the only good: whether the contemplative, or the active life do
excel: which Plato and Boethius well knew, and therefore made Mistress
Philosophy very often borrow the masking raiment of poesy. For even
those hard-hearted evil men, who think virtue a school name, and know
no other good but _indulgere genio_, and therefore despise the austere
admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reason they
stand upon, yet will be content to be delighted: which is all the good
fellow poet seemeth to promise: and so steal to see the form of goodness
(which seen they cannot but love) ere themselves be aware, as if they
took a medicine of cherries. Infinite proofs of the strange effects
of this poetical invention might be alleged; only two shall serve,
which are so often remembered, as I think all men know them.

The one of Menenius Agrippa, who when the whole people of Rome had
resolutely divided themselves from the Senate, with apparent show of
utter ruin: though he were (for that time) an excellent orator, came
not among them upon trust of figurative speeches, or cunning
insinuations: and much less, with far-fetched maxims of philosophy,
which (especially if they were Platonic [Footnote: Alluding to the
inscription over the door of Plato's Academy: _No entrance here without
Geometry._)], they must have learned geometry before they could well
have conceived: but forsooth he behaves himself, like a homely, and
familiar poet. He telleth them a tale, that there was a time, when all
the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracy against the belly,
which they thought devoured the fruits of each other's labour; they
concluded they would let so unprofitable a spender starve. In the end,
to be short (for the tale is notorious, and as notorious that it was
a tale), with punishing the belly, they plagued themselves. This,
applied by him, wrought such effect in the people, as I never read
that ever words brought forth but then, so sudden and so good an
alteration; for upon reasonable conditions, a perfect reconcilement
ensued. The other is of Nathan the prophet, who when the holy David
had so far forsaken God, as to confirm adultery with murder: when he
was to do the tenderest office of a friend, in laying his own shame
before his eyes, sent by God to call again so chosen a servant: how
doth he it but by telling of a man, whose beloved lamb was ungratefully
taken from his bosom? the application most divinely true, but the
discourse itself feigned: which made David (I speak of the second and
instrumental cause), as in a glass, to see his own filthiness, as that
heavenly psalm of mercy well testifieth.

By these therefore examples and reasons, I think it may be manifest,
that the poet, with that same hand of delight, doth draw the mind more
effectually than any other art doth; and so a conclusion not unfitly
ensueth: that, as virtue is the most excellent resting-place for all
worldly learning to make his end of, so poetry, being the most familiar
to teach it, and most princely to move towards it, in the most excellent
work is the most excellent workman. But I am content not only to
decipher him by his works (although works in commendation or dispraise
must ever hold an high authority), but more narrowly will examine his
parts: so that (as in a man) though altogether he may carry a presence
full of majesty and beauty, perchance in some one defectious piece we
may find a blemish: now in his parts, kinds, or species (as you list
to term them), it is to be noted, that some poesies have coupled
together two or three kinds, as tragical and comical, whereupon is
risen the tragi-comical. Some in the like manner have mingled prose
and verse, as Sanazzar and Boethius. Some have mingled matters heroical
and pastoral. But that cometh all to one in this question; for if
severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful. Therefore
perchance forgetting some, and leaving some as needless to be
remembered, it shall not be amiss in a word to cite the special kinds,
to see what faults may be found in the right use of them.

Is it then the pastoral poem which is misliked? for perchance, where
the hedge is lowest, they will soonest leap over. Is the poor pipe
disdained, which sometime out of Melibeus's mouth, can show the misery
of people under hard lords, or ravening soldiers? And again, by Tityrus,
what blessedness is derived to them that lie lowest from the goodness
of them that sit highest? Sometimes, under the pretty tales of wolves
and sheep, it can include the whole considerations of wrong-doing and
patience. Sometimes show, that contention for trifles can get but a
trifling victory. Where perchance a man may see that even Alexander
and Darius, when they strave who should be cock of this world's
dunghill, the benefit they got, was that the after-livers may say,

_Hac memini et victum frustra contendere Thyrsin;   Ex illo Corydon,
Corydon est tempore nobis._ [Footnote: All these instances are taken
from Virgil's _Eclogues_.]

Or is it the lamenting Elegiac, which in a kind heart would move rather
pity than blame, who bewails with the great philosopher Heraclitus the
weakness of mankind, and the wretchedness of the world: who surely is
to be praised, either for compassionate accompanying just causes of
lamentation, or for rightly painting out how weak be the passions of
woefulness. Is it the bitter, but wholesome Iambic [Footnote: Originally
used by the Greeks for satire], which rubs the galled mind, in making
shame the trumpet of villany, with bold and open crying out against
naughtiness; or the satirist, who

  _Omne vafer vitium ridenti tangit amico?_

Who sportingly never leaveth, until he make a man laugh at folly, and
at length ashamed, to laugh at himself: which he cannot avoid, without
avoiding the folly. Who while

  _Circum pracordia ludit_,

giveth us to feel, how many headaches a passionate life bringeth us
to. How when all is done,

_Est Ulubris, animus si nos non deficit aquus_ [Footnote: _i.e._ The
wise can find happiness even in a village.]_?_

No perchance it is the comic, whom naughty play-makers and stage-
keepers have justly made odious. To the argument of abuse [Footnote:
To the argument that, because comedy is liable to abuse, it should
therefore be prohibited altogether.], I will answer after. Only thus
much now is to be said, that the comedy is an imitation of the common
errors of our life, which he representeth in the most ridiculous and
scornful sort that may be. So as it is impossible that any beholder
can be content to be such a one.

Now, as in geometry, the oblique must be known as well as the right:
and in arithmetic, the odd as well as the even, so in the actions of
our life, who seeth not the filthiness of evil, wanteth a great foil
to perceive the beauty of virtue. This doth the comedy handle so in
our private and domestical matters, as with hearing it we get as it
were an experience, what is to be looked for of a niggardly Demea: of
a crafty Davus: of a flattering Gnatho: of a vainglorious Thraso
[Footnote: All characters in the Plays of Terence.]: and not only to
know what effects are to be expected, but to know who be such, by the
signifying badge given them by the comedian. And little reason hath
any man to say that men learn evil by seeing it so set out: sith, as
I said before, there is no man living but, by the force truth hath in
nature, no sooner seeth these men play their parts, but wisheth them
in Pistrinum [Footnote: the tread-mill.]: although perchance the sack
of his own faults lie so behind his back, that he seeth not himself
dance the same measure: whereto yet nothing can more open his eyes,
than to find his own actions contemptibly set forth. So that the right
use of comedy will (I think) by nobody be blamed, and much less of the
high and excellent tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, and
showeth forth the vicers [Footnote: sinners.], that are covered with
tissue: that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants manifest
their tyrannical humours: that, with stirring the effects of admiration
and commiseration, teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon
how weak foundations golden roofs are builded. That maketh us know,

  _Qui sceptra scevus duro imperio regit,
  Timet timentes, metus in auctorem redit._

But how much it can move, Plutarch yieldeth a notable testimony, of
the abominable tyrant, Alexander Pheraus; from whose eyes, a tragedy
well made and represented drew abundance of tears: who, without all
pity, had murdered infinite numbers, and some of his own blood. So as
he, that was not ashamed to make matters for tragedies, yet could not
resist the sweet violence of a tragedy.

And if it wrought no further good in him, it was, that he in despite
of himself withdrew himself from hearkening to that, which might mollify
his hardened heart. But it is not the tragedy they do mislike: for it
were too absurd to cast out so excellent a representation of whatsoever
is most worthy to be learned. Is it the lyric that most displeaseth,
who with his tuned lyre, and well accorded voice, giveth praise, the
reward of virtue, to virtuous acts? who gives moral precepts and natural
problems, who sometimes raiseth up his voice to the height of the
heavens, in singing the lauds of the immortal God. Certainly I must
confess my own barbarousness, I never heard the old song of Percy and
Douglas, that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet: and
yet is it sung but by some blind crouder  [Footnote: fiddler.], with
no rougher voice than rude style: which being so evil apparelled in
the dust and cobwebs of that uncivil age, what would it work trimmed
in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar? In Hungary I have seen it the
manner at all feasts and other such meetings, to have songs of their
ancestors' valour; which that right soldier-like nation think the
chiefest kindlers of brave courage. The incomparable Lacedemonians did
not only carry that kind of music ever with them to the field, but
even at home, as such songs were made, so were they all content to be
the singers of them, when the lusty men were to tell what they did,
the old men what they had done, and the young men what they would do.
And where a man may say that Pindar many times praiseth highly victories
of small moment, matters rather of sport than virtue: as it may be
answered, it was the fault of the poet, and not of the poetry; so
indeed, the chief fault was in the time and custom of the Greeks, who
set those toys at so high a price, that Philip of Macedon reckoned a
horse-race won at Olympus, among his three fearful felicities. But as
the inimitable Pindar often did, so is that kind most capable and most
fit to awake the thoughts from the sleep of idleness, to embrace
honourable enterprises.

There rests the heroical, whose very name (I think) should daunt all
backbiters; for by what conceit can a tongue be directed to speak evil
of that which draweth with it no less champions than Achilles, Cyrus,
Aneas, Turnus, Tydeus, and Rinaldo? who doth not only teach and move
to a truth, but teacheth and moveth to the most high and excellent
truth? who maketh magnanimity and justice shine, throughout all misty
fearfulness and foggy desires? who, if the saying of Plato and Tully
be true, that who could see Virtue, would be wonderfully ravished with
the love of her beauty, this man sets her out to make her more lovely
in her holiday apparel, to the eye of any that will deign, not to
disdain, until they understand. But if anything be already said in the
defence of sweet poetry, all concurreth to the maintaining the heroical,
which is not only a kind, but the best, and most accomplished kind of
poetry. For as the image of each action stirreth and instructeth the
mind, so the lofty image of such worthies most inflameth the mind with
desire to be worthy, and informs with counsel how to be worthy. Only
let Aneas be worn in the tablet of your memory, how he governeth himself
in the ruin of his country, in the preserving his old father, and
carrying away his religious ceremonies [Footnote: sacred vessels and
household gods.]: in obeying the god's commandment to leave Dido,
though not only all passionate kindness, but even the humane
consideration of virtuous gratefulness, would have craved other of
him. How in storms, how in sports, how in war, how in peace, how a
fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, how besieging, how to strangers,
how to allies, how to his enemies, how to his own: lastly, how in his
inward self, and how in his outward government. And I think, in a mind
not prejudiced with a prejudicating humour, he will be found in
excellency fruitful: yea, even as Horace saith:

  _Melius Chrysippo et Crantore_
 [Footnote: A better teacher than the philosophers.].

But truly I imagine, it falleth out with these poet-whippers, as with
some good women, who often are sick, but in faith they cannot tell
where. So the name of poetry is odious to them; but neither his cause,
nor effects, neither the sum that contains him, nor the particularities
descending from him, give any fast handle to their carping dispraise.

Sith then poetry is of all human learning the most ancient, and of
most fatherly antiquity, as from whence other learnings have taken
their beginnings: sith it is so universal, that no learned nation doth
despise it, nor no barbarous nation is without it: sith both Roman and
Greek gave divine names unto it, the one of prophesying, the other of
making: and that indeed that name of making is fit for him; considering,
that whereas other arts retain themselves within their subject, and
receive, as it were, their being from it, the poet only bringeth his
own stuff, and doth not learn a conceit out of a matter, but maketh
matter for a conceit: sith neither his description, nor his end,
containeth any evil, the thing described cannot be evil: sith his
effects be so good as to teach goodness and to delight the learners:
sith therein (namely, in moral doctrine, the chief of all knowledges),
he doth not only far pass the historian, but for instructing is well-
nigh comparable to the philosopher: and for moving, leaves him behind
him: sith the Holy Scripture (wherein there is no uncleanness) hath
whole parts in it poetical: and that even our Saviour Christ vouchsafed
to use the flowers of it: sith all his kinds are not only in their
united forms, but in their severed dissections fully commendable, I
think (and think I think rightly), the laurel crown, appointed for
triumphing captains, doth worthily (of all other learnings) honour the
poet's triumph. But because we have ears as well as tongues, and that
the lightest reasons that may be, will seem to weigh greatly, if nothing
be put in the counter-balance: let us hear, and as well as we can
ponder, what objections may be made against this art, which may be
worthy, either of yielding or answering.

First truly I note, not only in these _mysomousoi_ poet-haters, but
in all that kind of people, who seek a praise by dispraising others,
that they do prodigally spend a great many wandering words, in quips,
and scoffs; carping and taunting at each thing, which, by stirring the
spleen, may stay the brain from a through beholding the worthiness of
the subject.

Those kind of objections, as they are full of very idle easiness, sith
there is nothing of so sacred a majesty, but that an itching tongue
may rub itself upon it: so deserve they no other answer, but instead
of laughing at the jest, to laugh at the jester. We know a playing wit
can praise the discretion of an ass; the comfortableness of being in
debt, and the jolly commodity of being sick of the plague. So of the
contrary side, if we will turn Ovid's verse:

  _Ut lateat virtus proximitate mali,_

that good lie hid in nearness of the evil: Agrippa will be as merry
in showingthe vanity of science, as Erasmus was in commending of folly.
Neither shall any man or matter escape some touch of these smiling
railers. But for Erasmus and Agrippa, they had another foundation than
the superficial part would promise. Marry, these other pleasant
fault-finders, who will correct the verb, before they understand the
noun, and confute others' knowledge before they confirm their own: I
would have them only remember, that scoffing cometh not of wisdom. So
as the best title in true English they get with their merriments is
to be called good fools: for so have our grave forefathers ever termed
that humorous kind of jesters: but that which giveth greatest scope
to their scorning humours is rhyming and versing. It is already said
(and as I think, truly said) it is not rhyming and versing that maketh
poesy. One may be a poet without versing, and a versifier without
poetry. But yet, presuppose it were inseparable (as indeed it seemeth
Scaliger judgeth) truly it were an inseparable commendation. For if
_oratio_ next to _ratio_, speech next to reason, be the greatest gift
bestowed upon mortality: that cannot be praiseless, which doth most
polish that blessing of speech, which considers each word, not only
(as a man may say) by his forcible quality, but by his best measured
quantity, carrying even in themselves, a harmony: without (perchance)
number, measure, order, proportion, be in our time grown odious. But
lay aside the just praise it hath, by being the only fit speech for
music (music, I say, the most divine striker of the senses): thus much
is undoubtedly true, that if reading be foolish, without remembering,
memory being the only treasurer of knowledge, those words which are
fittest for memory, are likewise most convenient for knowledge.

Now, that verse far exceedeth prose in the knitting up of the memory,
the reason is manifest. The words (besides their delight, which hath
a great affinity to memory), being so set, as one word cannot be lost,
but the whole work fails: which accuseth itself, calleth the remembrance
back to itself, and so most strongly confirmeth it. Besides, one word
so as it were begetting another, as be it in rhyme or measured verse,
by the former a man shall have a near guess to the follower. Lastly,
even they that have taught the art of memory have showed nothing so
apt for it, as a certain room divided into many places well and
thoroughly known. Now, that hath the verse in effect perfectly: every
word having his natural seat, which seat must needs make the words
remembered. But what needeth more in a thing so known to all men? Who
is it that ever was a scholar, that doth not carry away some verses
of Virgil, Horace, or Cato [Footnote: The moralist. His elegiacs are
constantly quoted by medieval writers, _e.g._ in _Piers Plowman_.],
which in his youth he learned, and even to his old age serve him for
hourly lessons? But the fitness it hath for memory is notably proved
by all delivery of arts: wherein for the most part, from grammar to
logic, mathematic, physic, and the rest, the rules chiefly necessary
to be borne away are compiled in verses. So that, verse being in itself
sweet and orderly, and being best for memory, the only handle of
knowledge, it must be in jest that any man can speak against it. Now
then go we to the most important imputations laid to the poor poets;
for aught I can yet learn, they are these: first, that there being
many other more fruitful knowledges, a man might better spend his time
in them, than in this. Secondly, that it is the mother of lies. Thirdly,
that it is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many pestilent desires:
with a siren's sweetness, drawing the mind to the serpent's tail of
sinful fancy. And herein especially, comedies give the largest field
to err, as Chaucer saith: how both in other nations and in ours, before
poets did soften us, we were full of courage, given to martial
exercises; the pillars of man-like liberty, and not lulled asleep in
shady idleness with poets' pastimes. And lastly, and chiefly, they cry
out with an open mouth, as if they outshot Robin Hood, that Plato
banished them out of his commonwealth. Truly, this is much, if there
be much truth in it. First to the first: that a man might better spend
his time, is a reason indeed: but it doth (as they say) but _petere
principium_. For if it be as I affirm, that no learning is so good as
that which teacheth and moveth to virtue; and that none can both teach
and move thereto so much as poetry: then is the conclusion manifest,
that ink and paper cannot be to a more profitable purpose employed.
And certainly, though a man should grant their first assumption, it
should follow (methinks) very unwillingly, that good is not good,
because better is better. But I still and utterly deny that there is
sprung out of earth a more fruitful knowledge. To the second, therefore,
that they should be the principal liars; I answer paradoxically, but
truly I think, truly; that of all writers under the sun, the poet is
the least liar: and though he would, as a poet can scarcely be a liar,
the astronomer, with his cousin the geometrician, can hardly escape,
when they take upon them to measure the height of the stars.

How often, think you, do the physicians lie, when they aver things
good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a great number of
souls drowned in a potion before they come to his ferry? And no less
of the rest, which take upon them to affirm. Now, for the poet, he
nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie
is to affirm that to be true which is false. So as the other artists,
and especially the historian, affirming many things, can in the cloudy
knowledge of mankind hardly escape from many lies. But the poet (as
I said before) never affirmeth. The poet never maketh any circles about
your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writes.
He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry
calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention: in truth,
not labouring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should
not be: and therefore, though he recount things not true, yet because
he telleth them not for true, he lieth not, without we will say that
Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to David. Which as a wicked
man durst scarce say, so think I, none so simple would say, that Asop
lied in the tales of his beasts: for who thinks that Asop wrote it for
actually true, were well worthy to have his name chronicled among the
beasts he writeth of.

What child is there, that coming to a play, and seeing Thebes written
in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes? If
then a man can arrive, at that child's age, to know that the poet's
persons and doings are but pictures what should be, and not stories
what have been, they will never give the lie to things not
affirmatively, but allegorically and figuratively, written. And
therefore as in history, looking for truth, they go away full fraught
with falsehood: so in poesy, looking for fiction, they shall use the
narration but as an imaginative groundplot of a profitable invention.

But hereto is replied that the poets give names to men they write of,
which argueth a conceit of an actual truth, and so, not being true,
proves a falsehood. And doth the lawyer lie, then, when under the names
of John a stile and John a noakes, he puts his case? But that is easily
answered. Their naming of men is but to make their picture the more
lively, and not to build any history: painting men, they cannot leave
men nameless. We see we cannot play at chess, but that we must give
names to our chessmen; and yet methinks he were a very partial champion
of truth that would say we lied for giving a piece of wood the reverend
title of a bishop. The poet nameth Cyrus or Aneas no other way than
to show what men of their fames, fortunes, and estates should do.

Their third is, how much it abuseth men's wit, training it to wanton
sinfulness and lustful love; for indeed that is the principal, if not
the only abuse I can hear alleged. They say the comedies rather teach
than reprehend amorous conceits. They say the lyric is larded with
passionate sonnets. The elegiac weeps the want of his mistress. And
that even to the heroical, Cupid hath ambitiously climbed. Alas, Love!
I would thou couldst as well defend thyself as thou canst offend others.
I would those on whom thou dost attend could either put thee away or
yield good reason why they keep thee. But grant love of beauty to be
a beastly fault, although it be very hard, sith only man and no beast
hath that gift, to discern beauty. Grant that lovely name of love to
deserve all hateful reproaches: although even some of my masters the
philosophers spent a good deal of their lamp-oil in setting forth the
excellency of it. Grant, I say, whatsoever they will have granted;
that not only love, but lust, but vanity, but (if they list) scurrility,
possesseth many leaves of the poet's books: yet think I, when this is
granted, they will find their sentence may with good manners put the
last words foremost; and not say that poetry abuseth man's wit, but
that man's wit abuseth poetry.

For I will not deny but that man's wit may make poesy (which should
be _eikastike_, which some learned have defined, figuring forth good
things) to be fantastic: which doth contrariwise infect the fancy with
unworthy objects. As the painter, that should give to the eye either
some excellent perspective or some fine picture fit for building or
fortification, or containing in it some notable example, as Abraham
sacrificing his son Isaac, Judith killing Holofernes, David fighting
with Goliath, may leave those and please an ill-pleased eye with wanton
shows of better hidden matters. But what, shall the abuse of a thing
make the right use odious? Nay, truly, though I yield that poesy may
not only be abused, but that, being abused by the reason of his sweet
charming force, it can do more hurt than any other army of words: yet
shall it be so far from concluding that the abuse should give reproach
to the abused, that contrariwise it is a good reason that whatsoever
being abused, doth most harm, being rightly used (and upon the right
use each thing conceiveth his title) doth most good.

Do we not see the skill of physic (the best rampire to our often-
assaulted bodies), being abused, teach poison the most violent
destroyer? Doth not knowledge of law, whose end is to even and right
all things, being abused, grow the crooked fosterer of horrible
injuries? Doth not (to go to the highest) God's word, abused, breed
heresy? and His name abused, become blasphemy? Truly a needle cannot
do much hurt, and as truly (with leave of ladies be it spoken) it
cannot do much good. With a sword thou mayest kill thy father, and
with a sword thou mayest defend thy prince and country. So that, as
in their calling poets the fathers of lies they say nothing: so in
this their argument of abuse they prove the commendation.

They allege herewith that, before poets began to be in price, our
nation hath set their hearts' delight upon action and not upon
imagination: rather doing things worthy to be written than writing
things fit to be done. What that before time was, I think scarcely
Sphinx can tell: sith no memory is so ancient that hath the precedence
of poetry. And certain it is that, in our plainest homeliness, yet
never was the Albion nation without poetry. Marry, this argument,
though it be levelled against poetry, yet is it indeed a chain-shot
against all learning, or bookishness, as they commonly term it. Of
such mind were certain Goths, of whom it is written that, having in
the spoils of a famous city taken a fair library, one hangman (belike
fit to execute the fruits of their wits) who had murdered a great
number of bodies, would have set fire on it. "No", said another very
gravely, "take heed what you do, for while they are busy about these
toys, we shall with more leisure conquer their countries."

This indeed is the ordinary doctrine of ignorance, and many words
sometimes I have heard spent in it; but because this reason is generally
against all learning, as well as poetry; or rather, all learning but
poetry: because it were too large a digression to handle, or at least
too superfluous: (sith it is manifest that all government of action
is to be gotten by knowledge, and knowledge best by gathering many
knowledges, which is, reading), I only with Horace, to him that is of
that opinion,

  _Jubeo stultum esse libenter:_

for as for poetry itself, it is the freest from this objection. For
poetry is the companion of the camps.

I dare undertake, Orlando Furioso or honest King Arthur will never
displease a soldier; but the quiddity of _ens_ and _prima materia_
will hardly agree with a corslet; and therefore, as I said in the
beginning, even Turks and Tartars are delighted with poets. Homer, a
Greek, flourished before Greece flourished. And if to a slight
conjecture a conjecture may be opposed, truly it may seem that, as by
him their learned men took almost their first light of knowledge, so
their active men received their first motions of courage. Only
Alexander's example may serve, who by Plutarch is accounted of such
virtue that fortune was not his guide but his footstool; whose acts
speak for him, though Plutarch did not: indeed, the Phoenix of warlike
princes. This Alexander left his schoolmaster, living Aristotle, behind
him, but took dead Homer with him; he put the philosopher Calisthenes
to death for his seeming philosophical, indeed mutinous stubbornness.
But the chief thing he ever was heard to wish for was that Homer had
been alive. He well found he received more bravery of mind by the
pattern of Achilles than by hearing the definition of fortitude; and
therefore, if Cato misliked Fulvius for carrying Ennius with him to
the field, it may be answered that, if Cato misliked it, the noble
Fulvius liked it, or else he had not done it. For it was not the
excellent Cato Uticensis (whose authority I would much more have
reverenced), but it was the former [Footnote: Cato the Censor]: in
truth, a bitter punisher of faults, but else a man that had never well
sacrificed to the Graces. He misliked and cried out upon all Greek
learning, and yet, being 80 years old, began to learn it. Belike,
fearing that Pluto understood not Latin. Indeed, the Roman laws allowed
no person to be carried to the wars but he that was in the soldiers'
roll; and therefore, though Cato misliked his unmustered person, he
misliked not his work. And if he had, Scipio Nasica, judged by common
consent the best Roman, loved him. Both the other Scipio brothers, who
had by their virtues no less surnames than of Asia and Affrick, so
loved him that they caused his body to be buried in their sepulchre.
So as Cato, his authority being but against his person, and that
answered with so far greater than himself, is herein of no validity.
But now, indeed, my burden is great; now Plato his name is laid upon
me, whom I must confess, of all philosophers, I have ever esteemed
most worthy of reverence, and with great reason, sith of all
philosophers he is the most poetical. Yet if he will defile the
fountain, out of which his flowing streams have proceeded, let us
boldly examine with what reasons he did it. First, truly, a man might
maliciously object that Plato, being a philosopher, was a natural enemy
of poets; for, indeed, after the philosophers had picked out of the
sweet mysteries of poetry the right discerning true points of knowledge,
they forthwith putting it in method, and making a school-art of that
which the poets did only teach by a divine delightfulness, beginning
to spurn at their guides like ungrateful 'prentices, were not content
to set up shops for themselves, but sought by all means to discredit
their masters. Which by the force of delight being barred them, the
less they could overthrow them, the more they hated them. For, indeed,
they found for Homer seven cities strove who should have him for their
citizen: where many cities banished philosophers, as not fit members
to live among them. For only repeating certain of Euripides' verses,
many Athenians had their lives saved of the Syracusians: [Footnote:
The story is told in _Balaustion's Adventure_.] when the Athenians
themselves thought many philosophers unworthy to live.

Certain poets, as Simonides and Pindarus had so prevailed with Hiero
the first, that of a tyrant they made him a just king, where Plato
could do so little with Dionysius, that he himself, of a philosopher,
was made a slave. But who should do thus, I confess, should requite
the objections made against poets, with like cavillation against
philosophers; as likewise one should do, that should bid one read
_Phaedrus_ or _Symposium_ in Plato, or the discourse of love in
Plutarch, and see whether any poet do authorize abominable filthiness,
as they do. Again, a man might ask out of what commonwealth Plato did
banish them? in sooth, thence where he himself alloweth community of
women: so as, belike, this banishment grew not for effeminate
wantonness, sith little should poetical sonnets be hurtful, when a man
might have what woman he listed. But I honour philosophical
instructions, and bless the wits which bred them: so as they be not
abused, which is likewise stretched to poetry.

St. Paul himself, who yet (for the credit of poets) allegeth twice two
poets, and one of them by the name of a prophet, setteth a watch-word
upon philosophy, indeed upon the abuse. So doth Plato, upon the abuse,
not upon poetry. Plato found fault, that the poets of his time filled
the world with wrong opinions of the gods, making light tales of that
unspotted essence; and therefore, would not have the youth depraved
with such opinions. Herein may much be said, let this suffice: the
poets did not induce such opinions, but did imitate those opinions
already induced. For all the Greek stories can well testify, that the
very religion of that time stood upon many and many-fashioned gods,
not taught so by the poets, but followed, according to their nature
of imitation. Who list, may read in Plutarch, the discourses of Isis,
and Osiris, of the cause why oracles ceased, of the divine providence:
and see, whether the theology of that nation stood not upon such dreams,
which the poets superstitiously observed, and truly, (sith they had
not the light of Christ,) did much better in it than the philosophers,
who, shaking off superstition, brought in atheism. Plato therefore,
(whose authority I had much rather justly construe, than unjustly
resist,) meant not in general of poets, in those words of which Julius
Scaliger saith _qua auctoritate barbari quidam atque hispidi abuti
velint, ad poetas e republica exigendos_: but only meant, to drive out
those wrong opinions of the Deity (whereof now, without further law,
Christianity hath taken away all the hurtful belief) perchance (as he
thought) nourished by the then esteemed poets. And a man need go no
further than to Plato himself, to know his meaning: who in his dialogue
called _Ion_, giveth high, and rightly divine commendation to poetry.
So as Plato, banishing the abuse, not the thing, not banishing it but
giving due honour unto it, shall be our patron, and not our adversary.
For indeed I had much rather (sith truly I may do it) show their
mistaking of Plato, (under whose lion's skin they would make an ass-like
braying against poesy,) than go about to overthrow his authority, whom
the wiser a man is, the more just cause he shall find to have in
admiration: especially, sith he attributeth unto poesy more than myself
do; namely to be a very inspiring of a divine force, far above man's
wit; as in the aforenamed dialogue is apparent.

Of the other side, who would show the honours have been by the best
sort of judgments granted them, a whole sea of examples would present
themselves. Alexanders, Caesars, Scipios, all favourers of poets.
Lalius, called the Roman Socrates, himself a poet: so as part of
_Heautontimorumenos_ in Terence was supposed to be made by him. And
even the Greek Socrates, whom Apollo confirmed to be the only wise
man, is said to have spent part of his old time in putting Asop's
fables into verses. And therefore, full evil should it become his
scholar Plato to put such words in his master's mouth against poets.
But what need more? Aristotle writes the Art of Poesy: and why if it
should not be written? Plutarch teacheth the use to be gathered of
them, and how if they should not be read? And who reads Plutarch's
either history or philosophy, shall find he trimmeth both their garments
with guards of poesy. But I list not to defend poesy, with the help
of her underling, historiography. Let it suffice, that it is a fit
soil for praise to dwell upon: and what dispraise may set upon it is
either easily overcome, or transformed into just commendation. So that,
sith the excellencies of it may be so easily and so justly confirmed,
and the low-creeping objections, so soon trodden down; it not being
an art of lies, but of true doctrine: not of effeminateness, but of
notable stirring of courage: not of abusing man's wit, but of
strengthening man's wit: not banished, but honoured by Plato: let us
rather plant more laurels, for to engarland our poets' heads, (which
honour of being laureat, as besides them, only triumphant captains
wear, is a sufficient authority, to show the price they ought to be
had in,) than suffer the ill-favouring breath of such wrong-speakers,
once to blow upon the clear springs of poesy.

But sith I have run so long a career in this matter, methinks, before
I give my pen a full stop, it shall be but a little more lost time,
to inquire, why England, (the mother of excellent minds,) should be
grown so hard a step-mother to poets, who certainly in wit ought to
pass all other: sith all only proceedeth from their wit, being indeed
makers of themselves, not takers of others. How can I but exclaim,

  _Musa mihi causas memora, quo numine laso,_

sweet poesy, that hath anciently had kings, emperors, senators, great
captains, such as, besides a thousand others, David, Adrian, Sophocles,
Germanicus, not only to favour poets, but to be poets; and of our
nearer times, can present for her patrons, a Robert, king of Sicily,
the great king Francis of France, King James of Scotland; such cardinals
as Bembus, and Bibiena; such famous preachers and teachers, as Beza
and Melancthon; so learned philosophers, as Fracastorius and Scaliger;
so great orators, as Pontanus and Muretus; so piercing wits as George
Buchanan; so grave counsellors, as besides many, but before all, that
Hospital [Footnote: Michel de l'Hospital, Chancellor of France
1560-1568, and the noble champion of tolerance in the evil days of
Charles IX. He narrowly escaped with his life at the massacre of S.
Bartholomew, and died a few months later] of France: than whom (I
think) that realme never brought forth a more accomplished judgment:
more firmly builded upon virtue; I say these, with numbers of others,
not only to read others' poesies, but to poetise for others' reading:
that poesy thus embraced in all other places, should only find, in our
time, a hard welcome in England, I think the very earth lamenteth it,
and therefore decketh our soil with fewer laurels than it was
accustomed; for heretofore, poets have in England also flourished; and
which is to be noted, even in those times, when the trumpet of Mars
did sound loudest. And now, that an over-faint quietness should seem
to strew the house [Footnote: pave the way.] for poets, they are almost
in as good reputation as the mountebanks at Venice. Truly even that,
as of the one side it giveth great praise to poesy, which like Venus
(but to better purpose) hath rather be troubled in the net with Mars,
than enjoy the homely quiet of Vulcan: so serves it for a piece of a
reason, why they are less grateful to idle England, which now can
scarce endure the pain of a pen. Upon this necessarily followeth, that
base men with servile wits undertake it: who think it enough, if they
can be rewarded of the printer. And so as Epaminondas is said, with
the honour of his virtue, to have made an office, by his exercising
it, which before was contemptible, to become highly respected: so
these, no more but setting their names to it, by their own
disgracefulness, disgrace the most graceful poesy. For now, as if all
the Muses were got with child, to bring forth bastard poets, without
any commission, they do post over the banks of Helicon, till they make
the readers more weary than post-horses: while in the mean time, they

  _Queis meliore luto finxit procordia Titan_,

are better content, to suppress the outflowing of their wit, than by
publishing them to be accounted knights of the same order. But I, that
before ever I durst aspire unto the dignity am admitted into the company
of the paper-blurrers, do find the very true cause of our wanting
estimation, is want of desert: taking upon us to be poets, in despite
of Pallas. Now, wherein we want desert were a thank-worthy labour to
express: but if I knew, I should have mended myself. But I, as I never
desired the title, so have neglected the means to come by it. Only
overmastered by some thoughts, I yielded an inky tribute unto them.
Marry, they that delight in poesy itself should seek to know what they
do, and how they do; and especially, look themselves in an unflattering
glass of reason, if they be inclinable unto it. For poesy must not be
drawn by the ears, it must be gently led, or rather, it must lead.
Which was partly the cause, that made the ancient-learned affirm, it
was a divine gift, and no human skill: sith all other knowledges lie
ready for any that hath strength of wit: a poet no industry can make,
if his own genius be not carried unto it: and therefore is it an old
proverb, _orator fit; poeta nascitur_. Yet confess I always, that as
the fertilest ground must be manured, so must the highest-flying wit
have a Dadalus to guide him. That Dadalus, they say, both in this and
in other, hath three wings, to bear itself up into the air of due
commendation: that is, art, imitation, and exercise. But these, neither
artificial rules, nor imitative patterns, we much cumber ourselves
withal. Exercise indeed we do, but that, very fore-backwardly: for
where we should exercise to know, we exercise as having known: and so
is our brain delivered of much matter, which never was begotten by
knowledge. For, there being two principal parts, matter to be expressed
by words, and words to express the matter, in neither, we use art, or
imitation, rightly. Our matter is _quodlibet_ indeed, though wrongly
performing Ovid's verse,

  _Quicquid conabar dicere versus erat:_

never marshalling it into an assured rank, that almost the readers
cannot tell where to find themselves.

Chaucer undoubtedly did excellently in his _Troilus and Cresseid_; of
whom, truly I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in that
misty time, could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age walk
so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great wants, fit to be forgiven,
in so reverent antiquity. I account the _Mirror of Magistrates_
[Footnote: A long series of Poems, published in the early part of
Elizabeth's reign. The two first, and best, pieces in it--The
_Induction_ and _Complaint of the Duke of Buckingham_--were by
Sackville, joint-author of the earliest English Tragedy, _Gorboduc_.]
meetly furnished of beautiful parts; and in the Earl of Surrey's
_Lyrics_, many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble
mind. The _Shepherd's Calendar_ hath much poetry in his eclogues:
indeed worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. That same framing of
his style to an old rustic language I dare not allow, sith neither
Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazar in Italian, did
affect it. Besides these, do I not remember to have seen but few (to
speak boldly) printed, that have poetical sinews in them: for proof
whereof, let but most of the verses be put in prose, and then ask the
meaning; and it will be found that one verse did but beget another,
without ordering at the first, what should be at the last: which becomes
a confused mass of words, with a tingling sound of rhyme, barely
accompanied with reason.

Our tragedies and comedies, (not without cause cried out against,)
observing rules neither of honest civility nor of skilful poetry,
excepting _Gorboduc_, (again, I say, of those that I have seen,) which
notwithstanding as it is full of stately speeches, and well-sounding
phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of
notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain
the very end of poesy: yet in truth it is very defectious in the
circumstances; which grieveth me, because it might not remain as an
exact model of all tragedies. For it is faulty both in place and time,
the two necessary companions of all corporal actions. For where the
stage should always represent but one place, and the uttermost time
presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotle's precept and common
reason, but one day: there is both many days, and many places,
inartificially imagined. But if it be so in _Gorboduc_, how much more
in all the rest? where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Africa
of the other, and so many other under-kingdoms, that the player, when
he cometh in, must ever begin with telling where he is: or else, the
tale will not be conceived. Now ye shall have three ladies walk to
gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By
and by, we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, and then we are
to blame, if we accept it not for a rock.

Upon the back of that, comes out a hideous monster, with fire and
smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a
cave. While in the meantime, two armies fly in, represented with four
swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for
a pitched field? Now, of time they are much more liberal, for ordinary
it is that two young princes fall in love. After many traverses, she
is got with child, delivered of a fair boy, he is lost, groweth a man,
falls in love, and is ready to get another child, and all this in two
hours' space: which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine,
and art hath taught, and all ancient examples justified: and at this
day the ordinary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will some bring
in an example of _Eunuchus_ in Terence, that containeth matter of two
days, yet far short of twenty years. True it is, and so was it to be
played in two days, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And though
Plautus hath in one place done amiss, let us hit with him, and not
miss with him. But they will say, how then shall we set forth a story,
which containeth both many places, and many times? And do they not
know that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not of history?
not bound to follow the story, but having liberty, either to feign a
quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical
convenience. Again, many things may be told, which cannot be showed,
if they know the difference betwixt reporting and representing. As for
example, I may speak (though I am here) of Peru, and in speech digress
from that, to the description of Calicut: but in action, I cannot
represent it without Pacolet's horse: and so was the manner the ancients
took, by some _nuncius_ to recount things done in former time, or other
place. Lastly, if they will represent a history, they must not (as
Horace saith) begin _ab ovo_: but they must come to the principal point
of that one action, which they will represent. By example this will
be best expressed. I have a story of young Polydorus, delivered for
safety's sake, with great riches, by his father Priamus to Polymnestor,
king of Thrace, in the Trojan war time: he after some years, hearing
the overthrow of Priamus, for to make the treasure his own, murdereth
the child: the body is taken up by Hecuba: she the same day findeth
a slight to be revenged most cruelly of the tyrant: where now would
one of our tragedy writers begin, but with the delivery of the child?
Then should he sail over into Thrace, and so spend I know not how many
years, and travel numbers of places. But where doth Euripides?
[Footnote: In his _Hecuba_.] Even with the finding of the body, leaving
the rest to be told by the spirit of Polydorus. This need no further
to be enlarged, the dullest wit may conceive it. But besides these
gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies, nor
right comedies: mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so
carrieth it, but thrust in clowns by head and shoulders, to play a
part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion. So
as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness,
is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. I know Apuleius [Footnote:
In his Latin Romance, the _Metamorphoses_, or the _Golden Ass_.] did
somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not
represented in one moment: and I know, the ancients have one or two
examples of tragi-comedies, as Plautus hath _Amphitryo_: but if we
mark them well, we shall find, that they never, or very daintily, match
hornpipes and funerals. So falleth it out, that having indeed no right
comedy, in that comical part of our tragedy, we have nothing but
scurrility, unworthy of any chaste ears: or some extreme show of
doltishness, indeed fit to lift up a loud laughter, and nothing else:
where the whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight, as the
tragedy should be still maintained in a well-raised admiration. But
our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, which is
very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it
not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter; but
well may one thing breed both together: nay, rather in themselves,
they have as it were a kind of contrariety: for delight we scarcely
do, but in things that have a convenience to ourselves, or to the
general nature: laughter almost ever cometh of things most
disproportioned to ourselves and nature. Delight hath a joy in it,
either permanent, or present. Laughter hath only a scornful tickling.

For example, we are ravished with delight to see a fair woman, and yet
are far from being moved to laughter. We laugh at deformed creatures,
wherein certainly we cannot delight. We delight in good chances, we
laugh at mischances; we delight to hear the happiness of our friends,
or country; at which he were worthy to be laughed at, that would laugh;
we shall contrarily laugh sometimes, to find a matter quite mistaken,
and go down the hill against the bias, in the mouth of some such men,
as for the respect of them one shall be heartily sorry, yet he cannot
choose but laugh; and so is rather pained, than delighted, with
laughter. Yet deny I not, but that they may go well together; for as
in Alexander's picture well set out we delight without laughter, and
in twenty mad antics we laugh without delight: so in Hercules, painted
with his great beard, and furious countenance, in woman's attire,
spinning at Omphale's commandment, it breedeth both delight and
laughter. For the representing of so strange a power in love, procureth
delight: and the scornfulness of the action stirreth laughter. But I
speak to this purpose, that all the end of the comical part be not
upon such scornful matters as stir laughter only: but mixed with it,
that delightful teaching which is the end of poesy. And the great fault
even in that point of laughter, and forbidden plainly by Aristotle,
is that they stir laughter in sinful things; which are rather execrable
than ridiculous: or in miserable, which are rather to be pitied than
scorned. For what is it to make folks gape at a wretched beggar, or
a beggarly clown? or, against law of hospitality, to jest at strangers,
because they speak not English so well as we do? what do we learn,
sith it is certain

  _Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se,
  Quam quod ridiculos homines facit:_

but rather a busy-loving courtier; a heartless threatening Thraso; a
self-wise-seeming schoolmaster; an awry-transformed traveller? These
if we saw walk in stage names, which we play naturally, therein were
delightful laughter, and teaching delightfulness: as in the other, the
tragedies of Buchanan do justly bring forth a divine admiration. But
I have lavished out too many words of this play-matter. I do it because,
as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so much used
in England, and none can be more pitifully abused. Which like an
unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, causeth her mother poesy's
honesty to be called in question. Other sorts of poetry almost have
we none, but that lyrical kind of songs and sonnets: which Lord, if
he gave us so good minds, how well it might be employed, and with how
heavenly fruit, both private and public, in singing the praises of the
immortal beauty, the immortal goodness of that God, who giveth us hands
to write, and wits to conceive, of which we might well want words, but
never matter, of which we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we should
ever have new budding occasions. But truly many of such writings, as
come under the banner of un-resistible love, if I were a mistress,
would never persuade me they were in love: so coldly they apply fiery
speeches, as men that had rather read lovers' writings, and so caught
up certain swelling phrases, which hang together, like a man which
once told me, the wind was at north, west, and by south, because he
would be sure to name winds enough, than that in truth they feel those
passions, which easily (as I think) may be betrayed by that same
forcibleness, or _energeia_ (as the Greeks call it) of the writer. But
let this be a sufficient, though short note, that we miss the right
use of the material point of poesy.

Now, for the outside of it, which is words, or (as I may term it)
diction, it is even well worse. So is that honey-flowing matron
eloquence apparelled, or rather disguised, in a courtezan-like painted
affectation: one time with so far-fetched words, they may seem monsters,
but must seem strangers to any poor Englishman; another time, with
coursing of a letter, as if they were bound to follow the method of
a dictionary: another time, with figures and flowers, extremely
winter-starved. But I would this fault were only peculiar to versifiers,
and had not as large possession among prose-printers; and (which is
to be marvelled) among many scholars; and (which is to be pitied) among
some preachers. Truly I could wish, if at least I might be so bold to
wish in a thing beyond the reach of my capacity, the diligent imitators
of Tully and Demosthenes (most worthy to be imitated) did not so much
keep _Nizolian_ [Footnote: Nizolius, the compiler of a lexicon to the
works of Cicero.] paper-books of their figures and phrases, as by
attentive translation (as it were) devour them whole, and make them
wholly theirs: for now they cast sugar and spice upon every dish that
is served to the table; like those Indians, not content to wear earrings
at the fit and natural place of the ears, but they will thrust jewels
through their nose and lips because they will be sure to be fine.

Tully, when he was to drive out Catiline, as it were with a thunderbolt
of eloquence, often used that figure of repetition, _Vivit? Vivit;
immo in Senatum venit_, &c. Indeed, inflamed with a well-grounded rage,
he would have his words (as it were) double out of his mouth: and so
do that artificially, which we see men do in choler naturally. And we,
having noted the grace of those words, hale them in sometime to a
familiar epistle, when it were to too much choler to be choleric. Now
for similitudes, in certain printed discourses, I think all herbarists,
all stories of beasts, fowls, and fishes, are rifled up, that they
come in multitudes, to wait upon any of our conceits: [Footnote: An
allusion to the style of Lyly and the Euphuists.] which certainly is
as absurd a surfeit to the ears as is possible: for the force of a
similitude, not being to prove anything to a contrary disputer, but
only to explain to a willing hearer, when that is done, the rest is
a most tedious prattling: rather over-swaying the memory from the
purpose whereto they were applied, than any whit informing the judgment,
already either satisfied, or by similitudes not to be satisfied. For
my part, I do not doubt, when Antonius and Crassus, the great
forefathers of Cicero in eloquence, the one (as Cicero testifieth of
them) pretended not to know art, the other, not to set by it: because
with a plain sensibleness they might win credit of popular ears; which
credit is the nearest step to persuasion: which persuasion is the chief
mark of oratory; I do not doubt (I say) but that they used these tracks
very sparingly, which who doth generally use, any man may see doth
dance to his own music: and so be noted by the audience more careful
to speak curiously, than to speak truly.

Undoubtedly (at least to my opinion undoubtedly), I have found in
divers smally learned courtiers a more sound style, than in some
professors of learning: of which I can guess no other cause, but that
the courtier, following that which by practice he findeth fittest to
nature, therein (though he know it not) doth according to art, though
not by art: where the other, using art to show art, and not to hide
art (as in these cases he should do), flyeth from nature, and indeed
abuseth art.

But what? methinks I deserve to be pounded, for straying from poetry
to oratory: but both have such an affinity in this wordish
consideration, that I think this digression will make my meaning receive
the fuller understanding: which is not to take upon me to teach poets
how they should do, but only finding myself sick among the rest, to
show some one or two spots of the common infection, grown among the
most part of writers: that, acknowledging ourselves somewhat awry, we
may bend to the right use both of matter and manner; whereto our
language giveth us great occasion, being indeed capable of any excellent
exercising of it. I know, some will say it is a mingled language. And
why not so much the better, taking the best of both the other?
[Footnote: Both the Teutonic and the Romance elements.] Another will
say it wanteth grammar. Nay, truly, it hath that praise, that it wanteth
not grammar; for grammar it might have, but it needs it not; being so
easy of itself, and so void of those cumbersome differences of cases,
genders, moods, and tenses, which I think was a piece of the Tower of
Babylon's curse, that a man should be put to school to learn his
mother-tongue. But for the uttering sweetly and properly the conceits
of the mind, which is the end of speech, that hath it equally with any
other tongue in the world: and is particularly happy, in compositions
of two or three words together, near the Greek, far beyond the Latin:
which is one of the greatest beauties can be in a language.

Now, of versifying there are two sorts, the one ancient, the other
modern: the ancient marked the quantity of each syllable, and according
to that framed his verse: the modern, observing only number (with some
regard of the accent), the chief life of it standeth in that like
sounding of the words, which we call rhyme. Whether of these be the
most excellent, would bear many speeches. The ancient (no doubt) more
fit for music, both words and tune observing quantity, and more fit
lively to express divers passions, by the low and lofty sound of the
well-weighed syllable. The latter likewise, with his rhyme, striketh
a certain music to the ear: and in fine, sith it doth delight, though
by another way, it obtains the same purpose: there being in either
sweetness, and wanting in neither majesty. Truly the English, before
any other vulgar language I know, is fit for both sorts: for, for the
ancient, the Italian is so full of vowels, that it must ever be cumbered
with elisions. The Dutch, [Footnote: Sidney probably means what we
should call German.] so of the other side with consonants, that they
cannot yield the sweet sliding fit for a verse. The French, in his
whole language, hath not one word, that hath his accent in the last
syllable saving two, called _Antepenultima_, and little more hath the
Spanish: and therefore, very gracelessly may they use _Dactyls_. The
English is subject to none of these defects.

Now, for the rhyme, though we do not observe quantity, yet we observe
the accent very precisely: which other languages either cannot do, or
will not do so absolutely. That _Caesura_, or breathing place in the
midst of the verse, neither Italian nor Spanish have; the French, and
we, never almost fail of. Lastly, even the very rhyme itself, the
Italian cannot put in the last syllable, by the French named the
masculine rhyme, but still in the next to the last, which the French
call the female, or the next before that, which the Italians termed
_Sdrucciola_. [Footnote: Hence the Italian verse is always of eleven,
not ten, syllables.] The example of the former, is _Buono_, _Suono_;
of the _Sdrucciola_, _Femina_, _Semina_. The French, on the other side,
hath both the male, as _Bon_, _Son_, and the female, as _Plaise_,
_Taise_. But the _Sdrucciola_ he hath not: where English hath all
three, as _Due_, _True_, _Father_, _Rather_, _Motion_, _Potion_ with
much more which might be said, but that I find already, the triflingness
of this discourse is much too much enlarged. So that sith the
ever-praiseworthy poesy is full of virtue-breeding delightfulness, and
void of no gift, that ought to be in the noble name of learning: sith
the blames laid against it are either false, or feeble: sith the cause
why it is not esteemed in England, is the fault of poet-apes, not
poets: sith lastly, our tongue is most fit to honour poesy, and to be
honoured by poesy, I conjure you all, that have had the evil luck to
read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the name of the nine Muses,
no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy: no more to laugh at
the name of poets, as though they were next inheritors to fools: no
more to jest at the reverend title of a rhymer: but to believe with
Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers of the Grecians'
Divinity. To believe with Bembus, that they were first bringers in of
all civility. To believe with Scaliger, that no philosopher's precepts
can sooner make you an honest man, than the reading of Virgil. To
believe with Clauserus, the translator of Cornutus, that it pleased
the heavenly Deity, by Hesiod and Homer, under the veil of fables, to
give us all knowledge, logic, rhetoric, philosophy, natural and moral,
and _Quid non?_ To believe with me, that there are many mysteries
contained in poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest by
profane wits it should be abused. To believe with Landin, that they
are so beloved of the Gods, that whatsoever they write proceeds of a
divine fury. Lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they
will make you immortal, by their verses.

Thus doing, your name shall flourish in the printers' shops; thus
doing, you shall be of kin to many a poetical preface; thus doing, you
shall be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all, you shall dwell
upon superlatives. Thus doing, though you be _libertino patre natus_,
you shall suddenly grow _Herculis proles_:

  _Si quid mea carmina possunt._

Thus doing, your soul shall be placed with Dante's Beatrix, or Virgil's
Anchises. But if (fie of such a but) you be born so near the dull
making Cataphract of Nilus, that you cannot hear the planet-like music
of poetry, if you have so earth-creeping a mind, that it cannot lift
itself up, to look to the sky of poetry: or rather, by a certain
rustical disdain, will become such a mome [Footnote: scorner.], as to
be a _momus_ of poetry: then, though I will not wish unto you the ass's
ears of Midas, nor to be driven by a poet's verses (as Bubonax was)
to hang himself, nor to be rhymed to death, as is said to be done in
Ireland: yet thus much curse I must send you, in the behalf of all
poets, that, while you live, you live in love, and never get favour,
for lacking skill of a sonnet: and when you die, your memory die from
the earth, for want of an epitaph.




The following _Preface_ belongs to the last few months of Dryden's
life (1700), and introduces the collection, mainly of translations and
adaptations, to which he gave the title of _Fables_ Apart from
_Alexander's Feast_ (written in 1697), the most notable pieces in this
collection were the versions of Chaucer's _Knightes Tale_ and _Nonne
Prestes Tale_, and of three stories to be found in Boccaccio _Sigismunda
and Guiscardo_, _Cymon and Iphigenia_, _Theodore and Honoria_. The
Preface is memorable for its critical judgments on Homer, Virgil, and
Ovid, still more memorable for its glowing praise of Chaucer. It closes
as it was fitting that the last work of Dryden should close, with an
apology, full of manliness and dignity, for the licentiousness of his
comedies. For his short-comings in this matter he had lately been
attacked by Collier, and in his reply he more than wins back any esteem
that he may have lost by his transgression.

It is with a poet, as with a man who designs to build, and is very
exact, as he supposes, in casting up the cost beforehand; but, generally
speaking, he is mistaken in his account, and reckons short in the
expense he first intended. He alters his mind as the work proceeds,
and will have this or that convenience more, of which he had not thought
when he began. So has it happened to me. I have built a house, where
I intended but a lodge; yet with better success than a certain nobleman,
who, beginning with a dog-kennel, never lived to finish the palace he
had contrived.

From translating the first of Homer's _Iliads_ (which I intended as
an essay to the whole work) I proceeded to the translation of the
twelfth book of Ovid's _Metamorphoses_, because it contains, among
other things, the causes, the beginning, and ending, of the Trojan
war. Here I ought in reason to have stopped; but the speeches of Ajax
and Ulysses lying next in my way, I could not baulk them. When I had
compassed them, I was so taken with the former part of the fifteenth
book (which is the masterpiece of the whole _Metamorphoses_), that I
enjoined myself the pleasing task of rendering it into English. And
now I found, by the number of my verses, that they began to swell into
a little volume; which gave me an occasion of looking backward on some
beauties of my author, in his former books: there occurred to me the
_Hunting of the Boar_, _Cinyras and Myrrha_, the good-natured story
of _Baucis and Philemon_, with the rest, which I hope I have translated
closely enough, and given them the same turn of verse which they had
in the original; and this, I may say without vanity, is not the talent
of every poet. He who has arrived the nearest to it, is the ingenious
and learned Sandys, the best versifier of the former age, if I may
properly call it by that name, which was the former part of this
concluding century. For Spenser and Fairfax both flourished in the
reign of Queen Elizabeth; great masters in our language, and who saw
much farther into the beauties of our numbers than those who immediately
followed them. Milton was the poetical son of Spenser, and Mr. Waller
of Fairfax, for we have our lineal descents and clans as well as other
families. Spenser more than once insinuates that the soul of Chaucer
was transfused into his body, and that he was begotten by him two
hundred years after his decease. Milton has acknowledged to me that
Spenser was his original, and many besides myself have heard our famous
Waller [Footnote: "He first made writing easily an art"--was Dryden's
verdict on Waller.--_English Garner_, iii. 492.] own that he derived
the harmony of his numbers from the _Godfrey of Bulloigne_, which was
turned into English by Mr. Fairfax.

But to return. Having done with Ovid for this time, it came into my
mind that our old English poet, Chaucer, in many things resembled him,
and that with no disadvantage on the side of the modern author, as I
shall endeavour to prove when I compare them; and as I am, and always
have been, studious to promote the honour of my native country, so I
soon resolved to put their merits to the trial, by turning some of the
Canterbury Tales into our language, as it is now refined; for by this
means, both the poets being set in the same light, and dressed in the
same English habit, story to be compared with story, a certain judgment
may be made betwixt them by the reader, without obtruding my opinion
on him. Or if I seem partial to my countryman, and predecessor in the
laurel, the friends of antiquity are not few; and besides many of the
learned, Ovid has almost all the beaux, and the whole fair sex, his
declared patrons. Perhaps I have assumed somewhat more to myself than
they allow me, because I have adventured to sum up the evidence; but
the readers are the jury, and their privilege remains entire, to decide
according to the merits of the cause, or, if they please, to bring it
to another hearing before some other court.

In the meantime, to follow the thread of my discourse (as thoughts,
according to Mr. Hobbes, have always some connection), so from Chaucer
I was led to think on Boccace, who was not only his contemporary, but
also pursued the same studies; wrote novels in prose, and many works
in verse; particularly is said to have invented the octave rhyme, or
stanza of eight lines, which ever since has been maintained by the
practice of all Italian writers, who are, or at least assume the title
of Heroic Poets; he and Chaucer, among other things, had this in common,
that they refined their mother tongue; but with this difference, that
Dante had began to file their language, at least in verse, before the
time of Boccace, who likewise received no little help from his master
Petrarch. But the reformation of their prose was wholly owing to Boccace
himself, who is yet the standard of purity in the Italian tongue,
though many of his phrases are become obsolete, as in process of time
it must needs happen. Chaucer (as you have formerly been told by our
learned Mr. Rymer) first adorned and amplified our barren tongue from
the Provencal, [Footnote: No one now believes this. An excellent
discussion of the subject will be found in Professor Lounsbury's
_Studies in Chaucer_, ii. 429-458.] which was then the most polished
of all the modern languages; but this subject has been copiously treated
by that great critic, who deserves no little commendation from us, his
countrymen. For these reasons of time, and resemblance of genius in
Chaucer and Boccace, I resolved to join them in my present work, to
which I have added some original papers of my own, which, whether they
are equal or inferior to my other poems, an author is the most improper
judge, and therefore I leave them wholly to the mercy of the reader.
I will hope the best, that they will not be condemned; but if they
should, I have the excuse of an old gentleman, who, mounting on
horseback before some ladies, when I was present, got up somewhat
heavily, but desired of the fair spectators that they would count
four-score-and-eight before they judged him. By the mercy of God, I
am already come within twenty years of his number, a cripple in my
limbs; but what decays are in my mind, the reader must determine. I
think myself as vigorous as ever in the faculties of my soul, excepting
only my memory, which is not impaired to any great degree; and if I
lose not more of it, I have no great reason to complain. What judgment
I had, increases rather than diminishes; and thoughts, such as they
are, come crowding in so fast upon me, that my only difficulty is to
choose or to reject; to run them into verse, or to give them the other
harmony of prose. I have so long studied and practised both, that they
are grown into a habit, and become familiar to me. In short, though
I may lawfully plead some part of the old gentleman's excuse, yet I
will reserve it till I think I have greater need, and ask no grains
of allowance for the faults of this my present work, but those which
are given of course to human frailty. I will not trouble my reader
with the shortness of time in which I writ it, or the several intervals
of sickness: they who think too well of their own performances, are
apt to boast in their prefaces how little time their works have cost
them, and what other business of more importance interfered; but the
reader will be as apt to ask the question, why they allowed not a
longer time to make their works more perfect, and why they had so
despicable an opinion of their judges, as to thrust their indigested
stuff upon them, as if they deserved no better.

With this account of my present undertaking, I conclude the first part
of this discourse: in the second part, as at a second sitting, though
I alter not the draught, I must touch the same features over again,
and change the dead colouring of the whole. In general, I will only
say, that I have written nothing which savours of immorality or
profaneness; at least, I am not conscious to myself of any such
intention. If there happen to be found an irreverent expression, or
a thought too wanton, they are crept into my verses through my
inadvertency; if the searchers find any in the cargo, let them be
staved or forfeited, like contrabanded goods; at least, let their
authors be answerable for them, as being but imported merchandise, and
not of my own manufacture. On the other side, I have endeavoured to
choose such fables, both ancient and modern, as contain in each of
them some instructive moral, which I could prove by induction, but the
way is tedious; and they leap foremost into sight, without the reader's
trouble of looking after them. I wish I could affirm, with a safe
conscience, that I had taken the same care in all my former writings;
for it must be owned, that supposing verses are never so beautiful or
pleasing, yet if they contain anything which shocks religion, or good
manners, they are at best what Horace says of good numbers without
good sense:

  _Versus inopes rerum, nugaeque canorae._

Thus far, I hope, I am right in court, without renouncing my other
right of self-defence, where I have been wrongfully accused, and my
sense wire-drawn into blasphemy or bawdry, as it has often been by a
religious lawyer, [Footnote: Jeremy Collier. See conclusion of the
_Preface_.] in a late pleading against the stage; in which he mixes
truth with falsehood, and has not forgotten the old rule of calumniating
strongly, that something may remain.

I resume the thread of my discourse with the first of my translation,
which was the first Iliad of Homer. If it shall please God to give me
longer life, and moderate health, my intentions are to translate the
whole _Ilias_; provided still that I meet with those encouragements
from the public, which may enable me to proceed in my undertaking with
some cheerfulness. And this I dare assure the world beforehand, that
I have found, by trial, Homer a more pleasing task than Virgil (though
I say not the translation will be less laborious). For the Grecian is
more according to my genius than the Latin poet. In the works of the
two authors we may read their manners and inclinations, which are
wholly different. Virgil was of a quiet, sedate temper; Homer was
violent, impetuous, and full of fire. The chief talent of Virgil was
propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words; Homer was rapid in his
thoughts, and took all the liberties, both of numbers and of
expressions, which his language, and the age in which he lived, allowed
him: Homer's invention was more copious, Virgil's more confined; so
that if Homer had not led the way, it was not in Virgil to have begun
heroic poetry; for nothing can be more evident, than that the Roman
poem is but the second part of the _Ilias_; a continuation of the same
story, and the persons already formed; the manners of Aeneas are those
of Hector superadded to those which Homer gave him. The Adventures of
Ulysses in the _Odysseis_ are imitated in the first six books of
Virgil's _Aeneis_; and though the accidents are not the same (which
would have argued him of a servile copying, and total barrenness of
invention), yet the seas were the same in which both the heroes
wandered; and Dido cannot be denied to be the poetical daughter of
Calypso. The six latter books of Virgil's poem are the four and twenty
Iliads contracted; a quarrel occasioned by a lady, a single combat,
battles fought, and a town besieged. I say not this in derogation to
Virgil, neither do I contradict anything which I have formerly said
in his just praise: for his Episodes are almost wholly of his own
invention; and the form which he has given to the telling, makes the
tale his own, even though the original story had been the same. But
this proves, however, that Homer taught Virgil to design; and if
invention be the first virtue of an Epic poet, then the Latin poem can
only be allowed the second place. Mr. Hobbes, in the preface to his
own bald translation of the _Ilias_ (studying poetry as he did
mathematics, when it was too late), Mr. Hobbes, I say, begins the
praise of Homer where he should have ended it. He tells us that the
first beauty of an Epic poem consists in diction, that is, in the
choice of words, and harmony of numbers; now the words are the colouring
of the work, which in the order of nature is the last to be considered.
The design, the disposition, the manners, and the thoughts are all
before it; where any of those are wanting or imperfect, so much wants
or is imperfect in the imitation of human life; which is in the very
definition of a poem. Words, indeed, like glaring colours, are the
first beauties that arise, and strike the sight: but if the draught
be false or lame, the figures ill-disposed, the manners obscure or
inconsistent, or the thoughts unnatural, then the finest colours are
but daubing, and the piece is a beautiful monster at the best. Neither
Virgil nor Homer were deficient in any of the former beauties; but in
this last, which is expression, the Roman poet is at least equal to
the Grecian, as I have said elsewhere; supplying the poverty of his
language by his musical ear, and by his diligence. But to return: our
two great poets, being so different in their tempers, one choleric and
sanguine, the other phlegmatic and melancholic; that which makes them
excel in their several ways is, that each of them has followed his own
natural inclination, as well in forming the design, as in the execution
of it. The very heroes show their authors; Achilles is hot, impatient,
revengeful, _Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,_ &c. Aeneas
patient, considerate, careful of his people, and merciful to his
enemies; ever submissive to the will of heaven, _quo fata trahunt,
retrahuntque, sequamur_. I could please myself with enlarging on this
subject, but am forced to defer it to a fitter time. From all I have
said I will only draw this inference, that the action of Homer being
more full of vigour than that of Virgil, according to the temper of
the writer, is of consequence more pleasing to the reader. One warms
you by degrees; the other sets you on fire all at once, and never
intermits his heat. 'T is the same difference which Longinus makes
betwixt the effects of eloquence in Demosthenes and Tully. One
persuades, the other commands. You never cool while you read Homer,
even not in the second book (a graceful flattery to his countrymen);
but he hastens from the ships, and concludes not that book till he has
made you an amends by the violent playing of a new machine. From thence
he hurries on his action with variety of events, and ends it in less
compass than two months. This vehemence of his, I confess, is more
suitable to my temper; and therefore I have translated his first book
with greater pleasure than any part of Virgil; but it was not a pleasure
without pains: the continual agitations of the spirits must needs be
a weakening of any constitution, especially in age; and many pauses
are required for refreshment betwixt the heats; the _Iliad_ of itself
being a third part longer than all Virgil's works together.

This is what I thought needful in this place to say of Homer. I proceed
to Ovid and Chaucer, considering the former only in relation to the
latter. With Ovid ended the golden age of the Roman tongue; from Chaucer
the purity of the English tongue began. The manners of the poets were
not unlike: both of them were well-bred, well-natured, amorous, and
libertine, at least in their writings, it may be also in their lives.
Their studies were the same, philosophy and philology. Both of them
were known in astronomy, of which Ovid's books of the Roman feasts,
and Chaucer's treatise of the Astrolabe, are sufficient witnesses. But
Chaucer was likewise an astrologer, as were Virgil, Horace, Persius,
and Manilius. Both writ with wonderful facility and clearness: neither
were great inventors; for Ovid only copied the Grecian fables; and
most of Chaucer's stories were taken from his Italian contemporaries,
or their predecessors. Boccace's _Decameron_ was first published, and
from thence our Englishman has borrowed many of his Canterbury tales;
[Footnote: It is doubtful whether Chaucer had any knowledge of the
_Decameron_.] yet that of Palamon and Arcite was written in all
probability by some Italian wit in a former age, as I shall prove
hereafter. The tale of Grizild was the invention of Petrarch; by him
sent to Boccace, from whom it came to Chaucer. Troilus and Cressida
was also written by a Lombard author [Footnote: Boccaccio himself.],
but much amplified by our English translator, as well as beautified;
the genius of our countrymen in general being rather to improve an
invention than to invent themselves, as is evident not only in our
poetry, but in many of our manufactures.

I find I have anticipated already, and taken up from Boccace before
I come to him; but there is so much less behind; and I am of the temper
of most kings, who love to be in debt, are all for present money, no
matter how they pay it afterwards; besides, the nature of a preface
is rambling, never wholly out of the way, nor in it. This I have learned
from the practice of honest Montaigne, and return at my pleasure to
Ovid and Chaucer, of whom I have little more to say. Both of them built
on the inventions of other men; yet since Chaucer had something of his
own, as the _Wife of Bath's Tale, The Cock and the Fox_, which I have
translated, and some others, I may justly give our countryman the
precedence in that part, since I can remember nothing of Ovid which
was wholly his. Both of them understood the manners, under which name
I comprehend the passions, and, in a larger sense, the descriptions
of persons, and their very habits; for an example, I see Baucis and
Philemon as perfectly before me, as if some ancient painter had drawn
them; and all the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales, their humours,
their features, and the very dress, as distinctly as if I had supped
with them at the Tabard in Southwark; yet even there too the figures
in Chaucer are much more lively, and set in a better light: which
though I have not time to prove, yet I appeal to the reader, and am
sure he will clear me from partiality. The thoughts and words remain
to be considered in the comparison of the two poets; and I have saved
myself one half of that labour, by owning that Ovid lived when the
Roman tongue was in its meridian, Chaucer in the dawning of our
language; therefore that part of the comparison stands not on an equal
foot, any more than the diction of Ennius and Ovid, or of Chaucer and
our present English. The words are given up as a post not to be defended
in our poet, because he wanted the modern art of fortifying. The
thoughts remain to be considered, and they are to be measured only by
their propriety, that is, as they flow more or less naturally from the
persons described, on such and such occasions. The vulgar judges, which
are nine parts in ten of all nations, who call conceits and jingles
wit, who see Ovid full of them, and Chaucer altogether without them,
will think me little less than mad, for preferring the Englishman to
the Roman; yet, with their leave, I must presume to say, that the
things they admire are only glittering trifles, and so far from being
witty, that in a serious poem they are nauseous, because they are
unnatural. Would any man, who is ready to die for love, describe his
passion like Narcissus? Would he think of _inopem me copia fecit_, and
a dozen more of such expressions, poured on the neck of one another,
and signifying all the same thing? If this were wit, was this a time
to be witty, when the poor wretch was in the agony of death? This is
just John Littlewit in _Bartholomew Fair_, [Footnote: Jonson's play
of that name, act i. sc. i.] who had a conceit (as he tells you) left
him in his misery; a miserable conceit. On these occasions the poet
should endeavour to raise pity; but instead of this, Ovid is tickling
you to laugh. Virgil never made use of such machines, when he was
moving you to commiserate the death of Dido: he would not destroy what
he was building. Chaucer makes Arcite violent in his love, and unjust
in the pursuit of it; yet when he came to die, he made him think more
reasonably: he repents not of his love, for that had altered his
character, but acknowledges the injustice of his proceedings, and
resigns Emilia to Palamon. What would Ovid have done on this occasion?
He would certainly have made Arcite witty on his death-bed. He had
complained he was farther off from possession by being so near, and
a thousand such boyisms, which Chaucer rejected as below the dignity
of the subject. They, who think otherwise, would by the same reason
prefer Lucan and Ovid to Homer and Virgil, and Martial to all four of
them. As for the turn of words, in which Ovid particularly excels all
poets, they are sometimes a fault, and sometimes a beauty, as they are
used properly or improperly; but in strong passions always to be
shunned, because passions are serious, and will admit no playing. The
French have a high value for them; and I confess, they are often what
they call delicate, when they are introduced with judgment; but Chaucer
writ with more simplicity, and followed nature more closely, than to
use them. I have thus far, to the best of my knowledge, been an upright
judge betwixt the parties in competition, not meddling with the design
nor the disposition of it, because the design was not their own, and
in the disposing of it they were equal. It remains that I say somewhat
of Chaucer in particular.

In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold
him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer or the
Romans Virgil: he is a perpetual fountain of good sense, learned in
all sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all subjects; as he
knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off, a continence
which is practised by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients,
excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets is sunk in
his reputation, because he could never forgive any conceit which came
in his way, but swept like a drag net great and small. [Footnote:
Cowley. See Johnson's criticism of the metaphysical poets.] There was
plenty enough, but the dishes were ill-sorted; whole pyramids of
sweetmeats for boys and women, but little of solid meat for men: all
this proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment; neither
did he want that in discerning the beauties and faults of other poets,
but only indulged himself in the luxury of writing, and perhaps knew
it was a fault, but hoped the reader would not find it. For this reason,
though he must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer esteemed
a good writer; and for ten impressions, which his works have had in
so many successive years, yet at present a hundred books are scarcely
purchased once a twelvemonth; for as my last Lord Rochester said,
though somewhat profanely, "Not being of God, he could not stand".

Chaucer followed nature everywhere, but was never so bold to go beyond
her; and there is a great difference of being _poeta_ and _nimis poeta_
if we believe Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest behaviour and
affectation. The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not harmonious to us,
but it is like the eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends, it was
_auribus istius temporis accommodata_: they who lived with him, and
some time after him, thought it musical; and it continues so even in
our judgment, if compared with the numbers of Lydgate and Gower, his
contemporaries; there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune in it,
which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect. It is true I cannot
go so far as he who published the last edition of him; [Footnote: That
of 1687, which was little more than a reprint of Speght's editions
(1598, 1602).] for he would make us believe the fault is in our ears,
and that there were really ten syllables in a verse where we find but
nine, but this opinion is not worth confuting, it is so gross and
obvious an error that common sense (which is a rule in everything but
matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader that equality
of numbers in every verse, which we call Heroic, was either not known,
or not always practised in Chaucer's age. It were an easy matter to
produce some thousands of his verses, which are lame for want of half
a foot, and sometimes a whole one, and which no pronunciation can make
otherwise. We can only say that he lived in the infancy of our poetry,
and that nothing is brought to perfection at the first. We must be
children before we grow men. There was an Ennius, and in process of
time a Lucilius and a Lucretius, before Virgil and Horace; even after
Chaucer there was a Spenser, a Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller
and Denham were in being; and our numbers were in their nonage till
these last appeared. I need say little of his parentage, life, and
fortunes: they are to be found at large in all the editions of his
works. He was employed abroad, and favoured by Edward the Third, Richard
the Second, and Henry the Fourth, and was poet, as I suppose, to all
three of them. In Richard's time, I doubt, he was a little dipt in the
rebellion of the commons, [Footnote: There is no evidence for this
'doubt', though in his Balade, _Lak of Stedfastnesse_, Chaucer speaks
plainly both to Richard and his subjects.] and being brother-in-law
to John of Gaunt, it was no wonder if he followed the fortunes of that
family, and was well with Henry the Fourth when he had deposed his
predecessor. Neither is it to be admired that Henry, who was a wise
as well as a valiant prince, who claimed by succession, and was sensible
that his title was not sound, but was rightfully in Mortimer, who had
married the heir of York; it was not to be admired, I say, if that
great politician should be pleased to have the greatest wit of those
times in his interests, and to be the trumpet of his praises. Augustus
had given him the example, by the advice of Maecenas, who recommended
Virgil and Horace to him, whose praises helped to make him popular
while he was alive, and after his death have made him precious to
posterity. As for the religion of our poet, he seems to have some
little bias towards the opinions of Wickliff, after John of Gaunt his
patron; somewhat of which appears in the tale of Piers Plowman:
[Footnote: The Plowman's Tale, which was printed as one of the
Canterbury Tales in Speght's editions. It is now rejected by all
authorities.] yet I cannot blame him for inveighing so sharply against
the vices of the clergy in his age; their pride, their ambition, their
pomp, their avarice, their worldly interest deserved the lashes which
he gave them, both in that and in most of his Canterbury tales: neither
has his contemporary Boccace spared them. Yet both these poets lived
in much esteem with good and holy men in orders; for the scandal which
is given by particular priests, reflects not on the sacred function.
Chaucer's Monk, his Canon, and his Friar took not from the character
of his Good Parson. A satirical poet is the check of the laymen on bad
priests. We are only to take care that we involve not the innocent
with the guilty in the same condemnation. The good cannot be too much
honoured, nor the bad too coarsely used; for the corruption of the
best becomes the worst. When a clergyman is whipped his gown is first
taken off, by which the dignity of his order is secured; if he be
wrongfully accused, he has his action of slander; and it is at the
poet's peril if he transgress the law. But they will tell us that all
kinds of satire, though never so well-deserved by particular priests,
yet brings the whole order into contempt. Is, then, the peerage of
England anything dishonoured when a peer suffers for his treason? If
he be libelled, or any way defamed, he has his _Scandalum Magnatum_
to punish the offender. They who use this kind of argument seem to be
conscious to themselves of somewhat which has deserved the poet's lash,
and are less concerned for their public capacity than for their private;
at least there is pride at the bottom of their reasoning. If the faults
of men in orders are only to be judged among themselves, they are all
in some sort parties; for, since they say the honour of their order
is concerned in every member of it, how can we be sure that they will
be impartial judges? How far I may be allowed [Footnote: As a Catholic.]
to speak my opinion in this case I know not, but I am sure a dispute
of this nature caused mischief in abundance betwixt a King of England
and an Archbishop of Canterbury, one standing up for the laws of his
land, and the other for the honour (as he called it) of God's Church,
which ended in the murder of the prelate, and in the whipping of his
majesty from post to pillar for his penance. The learned and ingenious
Dr. Drake has saved me the labour of inquiring into the esteem and
reverence which the priests have had of old; and I would rather extend
than diminish any part of it: yet I must needs say, that when a priest
provokes me without any occasion given him, I have no reason, unless
it be the charity of a Christian, to forgive him. _Prior laesit_ is
justification sufficient in the Civil Law. If I answer him in his own
language, self-defence, I am sure, must be allowed me; and if I carry
it farther, even to a sharp recrimination, somewhat may be indulged
to human frailty. Yet my resentment has not wrought so far, but that
I have followed Chaucer in his character of a holy man, and have
enlarged on that subject with some pleasure, reserving to myself the
right, if I shall think fit hereafter, to describe another sort of
priests, such as are more easily to be found than the good parson;
such as have given the last blow to Christianity in this age, by a
practice so contrary to their doctrine. But this will keep cold till
another time. In the meanwhile, I take up Chaucer where I left him.
He must have been a man of a most wonderful comprehensive nature,
because, as it has been truly observed of him, he has taken into the
compass of his Canterbury tales the various manners and humours (as
we now call them) of the whole English nation, in his age. Not a single
character has escaped him. All his pilgrims are severally distinguished
from each other; and not only in their inclinations, but in their very
physiognomies and persons. Baptista Porta could not have described
their natures better than by the marks which the poet gives them. The
matter and manner of their tales, and of their telling, are so suited
to their different educations, humours, and callings that each of them
would be improper in any other mouth. Even the grave and serious
characters are distinguished by their several sorts of gravity: their
discourses are such as belong to their age, their calling, and their
breeding; such as are becoming of them, and of them only. Some of his
persons are vicious, and some virtuous; some are unlearned, or (as
Chaucer calls them) lewd, and some are learned. Even the ribaldry of
the low characters is different: the Reeve, the Miller, and the Cook
are several men, and distinguished from each other, as much as the
mincing lady prioress, and the broad-speaking gap-toothed wife of Bath.
But enough of this: there is such a variety of game springing up before
me, that I am distracted in my choice, and know not which to follow.
'Tis sufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's
plenty. We have our forefathers and great-grand-dames all before us,
as they were in Chaucer's days; their general characters are still
remaining in mankind, and even in England, though they are called by
other names than those of Monks and Friars and Canons, and Lady Abbesses
and Nuns; for mankind is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature,
though everything is altered.

May I have leave to do myself the justice (since my enemies will do
me none, and are so far from granting me to be a good poet that they
will not allow me so much as to be a Christian, or a moral man), may
I have leave, I say, to inform my reader that I have confined my choice
to such tales of Chaucer as savour nothing of immodesty? If I had
desired more to please than to instruct, the Reeve, the Miller, the
Shipman, the Merchant, the Summoner, and, above all, the Wife of Bath,
in the prologue to her tale, would have procured me as many friends
and readers as there are beaux and ladies of pleasure in the town. But
I will no more offend against good manners; I am sensible, as I ought
to be, of the scandal I have given by my loose writings, and make what
reparation I am able by this public acknowledgment. If anything of
this nature, or of profaneness, be crept into these poems, I am so far
from defending it that I disown it. _Totum hoc indictum volo_. Chaucer
makes another manner of apology for his broad speaking, and Boccace
makes the like; but I will follow neither of them. Our countryman, in
the end of his characters, before the Canterbury tales, thus excuses
the ribaldry, which is very gross in many of his novels.

  But first, I pray you of your courtesie,
  That ye ne arrette it nought my villanie,
  Though that I plainly speak in this matere
  To tellen yon her words, and eke her chere:
  Ne though I speak her wordes properly,
  For this ye knowen al so well as I,
  Who-so shall tell a tale after a man,
  He mote rehearse as nye as ever he can
  Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
  All speke he never so rudely and large.
  Or elles he mot telle his tale untrue.
  Or feine things, or finde wordes new:
  He may not spare, although he were his brother,
  He mot as well say o word as another,
  Christ spake himself full broad in holy writ,
  And well ye wot no villany is it.
  Eke Plato saith, who so that can him rede,
  The wordes mote be cousin to the dede.

Yet if a man should have inquired of Boccace or of Chaucer, what need
they had of introducing such characters where obscene words were proper
in their mouths, but very indecent to be heard; I know not what answer
they could have made; for that reason, such tale shall be left untold
by me. You have here a specimen of Chaucer's language, which is so
obsolete, that his sense is scarce to be understood; and you have
likewise more than one example of his unequal numbers, [Footnote: The
lines have been corrected in the text, and may easily be seen to be
perfectly metrical.] which were mentioned before. Yet many of his
verses consist of ten syllables, and the words not much behind our
present English: as, for example, these two lines, in the description
of the carpenter's young wife:--

  Wincing she was, as is a jolly colt,
  Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.

I have almost done with Chaucer, when I have answered some objections
relating to my present work. I find some people are offended that I
have turned these tales into modern English; because they think them
unworthy of my pains, and look on Chaucer as a dry, old-fashioned wit,
not worth reviving. I have often heard the late Earl of Leicester say,
that Mr. Cowley himself was of that opinion; who, having read him over
at my lord's request, declared he had no taste of him. I dare not
advance my opinion against the judgment of so great an author: but I
think it fair, however, to leave the decision to the public. Mr. Cowley
was too modest to set up for a dictator; and being shocked perhaps
with his old style, never examined into the depth of his good sense.
Chaucer, I confess, is a rough diamond, and must first be polished ere
he shines. I deny not, likewise, that, living in our early times he
writes not always of a piece, but sometimes mingles trivial things
with those of greater moment. Sometimes also, though not often, he
runs riot, like Ovid, and knows not when he has said enough. But there
are more great wits besides Chaucer, whose fault is their excess of
conceits, and those ill sorted. An author is not to write all he can,
but only all he ought. Having observed this redundancy in Chaucer (as
it is an easy matter for a man of ordinary parts to find a fault in
one of greater), I have not tied myself to a literal translation; but
have often omitted what I judged unnecessary, or not of dignity enough
to appear in the company of better thoughts. I have presumed farther,
in some places, and added somewhat of my own where I thought my author
was deficient, and had not given his thoughts their true lustre, for
want of words in the beginning of our language. And to this I was the
more emboldened, because (if I may be permitted to say it of myself)
I found I had a soul congenial to his, and that I had been conversant
in the same studies. Another poet, in another age, may take the same
liberty with my writings; if at least they live long enough to deserve
correction. It was also necessary sometimes to restore the sense of
Chaucer, which was lost or mangled in the errors of the press: let
this example suffice at present; in the story of Palamon and Arcite,
where the temple of Diana is described, you find these verses, in all
the editions of our author:

  There saw I Dane turned into a tree,
  I mean not the goddess Diane,
  But Venus daughter, which that hight Dane:

Which, after a little consideration, I knew was to be reformed into
this sense, that Daphne, the daughter of Peneus, was turned into a
tree. I durst not make thus bold with Ovid, lest some future Milbourn
should arise, and say, I varied from my author, because I understood
him not.

But there are other judges who think I ought not to have translated
Chaucer into English, out of a quite contrary notion: they suppose
there is a certain veneration due to his old language; and that it is
a little less than profanation and sacrilege to alter it. They are
farther of opinion, that somewhat of his good sense will suffer in
this transfusion, and much of the beauty of his thoughts will infallibly
be lost, which appear with more grace in their old habit. Of this
opinion was that excellent person, whom I mentioned, the late Earl of
Leicester, who valued Chaucer as much as Mr. Cowley despised him. My
lord dissuaded me from this attempt (for I was thinking of it some
years before his death), and his authority prevailed so far with me,
as to defer my undertaking while he lived, in deference to him: yet
my reason was not convinced with what he urged against it. If the first
end of a writer be to be understood, then as his language grows
obsolete, his thoughts must grow obscure: _multa renascentur quae nunc
cecidere; cadentque, quae nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus,
quem penes arbitrium est et jus et norma loquendi_. When an ancient
word for its sound and significancy deserves to be revived, I have
that reasonable veneration for antiquity, to restore it. All beyond
this is superstition. Words are not like landmarks, so sacred as never
to be removed; customs are changed, and even statutes are silently
repealed, when the reason ceases for which they were enacted. As for
the other part of the argument, that his thoughts will lose of their
original beauty, by the innovation of words; in the first place, not
only their beauty but their being is lost where they are no longer
understood, which is the present case. I grant that something must be
lost in all transfusion, that is, in all translations; but the sense
will remain, which would otherwise be lost, or at least be maimed,
when it is scarce intelligible; and that but to a few. How few are
there who can read Chaucer, so as to understand him perfectly! And if
imperfectly, then with less profit and no pleasure. 'Tis not for the
use of some old Saxon friends that I have taken these pains with him:
let them neglect my version because they have no need of it. I made
it for their sakes who understand sense and poetry as well as they,
when that poetry and sense is put into words which they understand.
I will go farther, and dare to add, that what beauties I lose in some
places, I give to others which had them not originally; but in this
I may be partial to myself; let the reader judge, and I submit to his
decision. Yet I think I have just occasion to complain of them, who,
because they understand Chaucer, would deprive the greater part of
their countrymen of the same advantage, and hoard him up, as misers
do their grandam gold, only to look on it themselves, and hinder others
from making use of it. In some I seriously protest, that no man ever
had, or can have, a greater veneration for Chaucer, than myself. I
have translated some part of his works, only that I might perpetuate
his memory, or at least refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have
altered him anywhere for the better, I must at the same time acknowledge
that I could have done nothing without him: _Facile est inventis
addere_, is no great commendation; and I am not so vain to think I
have deserved a greater. I will conclude what I have to say of him
singly, with this one remark: a lady of my acquaintance, who keeps a
kind of correspondence with some authors of the fair sex in France,
has been informed by them that Mademoiselle de Scudery, who is as old
as Sibyl, and inspired like her by the same god of poetry, is at this
time translating Chaucer into modern French. From which I gather that
he has been formerly translated into the old Provencal (for how she
should come to understand old English I know not). But the matter of
fact being true, it makes me think that there is something in it like
fatality; that, after certain periods of time, the fame and memory of
great wits should be renewed, as Chaucer is both in France and England.
If this be wholly chance, 'tis extraordinary, and I dare not call it
more for fear of being taxed with superstition.

Boccace comes last to be considered, who, living in the same age with
Chaucer, had the same genius, and followed the same studies; both writ
novels, and each of them cultivated his mother tongue. But the greatest
resemblance of our two modern authors being in their familiar style,
and pleasing way of relating comical adventures, I may pass it over,
because I have translated nothing from Boccace of that nature. In the
serious part of poetry, the advantage is wholly on Chaucer's side; for
though the Englishman has borrowed many tales from the Italian, yet
it appears that those of Boccace were not generally of his own making,
but taken from authors of former ages, and by him only modelled; so
that what there was of invention in either of them may be judged equal.
But Chaucer has refined on Boccace, and has mended the stories which
he has borrowed in his way of telling, though prose allows more liberty
of thought, and the expression is more easy when unconfined by numbers.
Our countryman carries weight, and yet wins the race at disadvantage.
I desire not the reader should take my word, and therefore I will set
two of their discourses on the same subject, in the same light, for
every man to judge betwixt them. I translated Chaucer first, and amongst
the rest pitched on the Wife of Bath's tale--not daring, as I have
said, to adventure on her prologue, because it is too licentious. There
Chaucer introduces an old woman of mean parentage, whom a youthful
knight of noble blood was forced to marry, and consequently loathed
her. The crone being in bed with him on the wedding-night, and finding
his aversion, endeavours to win his affection by reason, and speaks
a good word for herself (as who could blame her?) in hope to mollify
the sullen bridegroom. She takes her topics from the benefits of
poverty, the advantages of old age and ugliness, the vanity of youth,
and the silly pride of ancestry and titles without inherent virtue,
which is the true nobility. When I had closed Chaucer I returned to
Ovid, and translated some more of his fables; and by this time had so
far forgotten the Wife of Bath's tale that, when I took up Boccace
unawares, I fell on the same argument of preferring virtue to nobility
of blood, and titles, in the story of Sigismunda, which I had certainly
avoided for the resemblance of the two discourses, if my memory had
not failed me. Let the reader weigh them both, and if he thinks me
partial to Chaucer, it is in him to right Boccace.

I prefer in our countryman, far above all his other stories, the noble
poem of _Palamon and Arcite_, which is of the Epic kind, and perhaps
not much inferior to the _Ilias_ or the _Aeneis_. The story is more
pleasing than either of them--the manners as perfect, the diction as
poetical, the learning as deep and various, and the disposition full
as artful--only it includes a greater length of time, as taking up
seven years at least; but Aristotle has left undecided the duration
of the action, which yet is easily reduced into the compass of a year
by a narration of what preceded the return of Palamon to Athens. I had
thought for the honour of our nation, and more particularly for his
whose laurel, though unworthy, I have worn after him, that this story
was of English growth and Chaucer's own; but I was undeceived by
Boccace, for casually looking on the end of his seventh Giornata, I
found Dioneo (under which name he shadows himself) and Fiametta (who
represents his mistress the natural daughter of Robert, King of Naples),
of whom these words are spoken, _Dioneo e la Fiametta granpezza
contarono insieme d'Arcita, e di Palamone_, by which it appears that
this story was written before the time of Boccace; [Footnote: It was
really written by Boccaccio himself, but, as Dryden himself says,
Chaucer has greatly improved upon his original (_La Teseide_).] but
the name of its author being wholly lost, Chaucer is now become an
original, and I question not but the poem has received many beauties
by passing through his noble hands. Besides this tale, there is another
of his own invention, after the manner of the Provencals, called the
Flower and the Leaf, with which I was so particularly pleased, both
for the invention and the moral, that I cannot hinder myself from
recommending it to the reader.

As a corollary to this preface, in which I have done justice to others,
I owe somewhat to myself; not that I think it worth my time to enter
the lists with one Milbourn and one Blackmore, but barely to take
notice that such men there are who have written scurrilously against
me without any provocation. Milbourn, who is in orders, pretends amongst
the rest this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on priesthood;
if I have, I am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am afraid his
part of the reparation will come to little. Let him be satisfied that
he shall not be able to force himself upon me for an adversary. I
contemn him too much to enter into competition with him. His own
translations of Virgil have answered his criticisms on mine. If (as
they say he has declared in print) he prefers the version of Ogilby
to mine, the world has made him the same compliment, for it is agreed
on all hands that he writes even below Ogilby. That, you will say. is
not easily to be done; but what cannot Milbourn bring about? I am
satisfied, however, that while he and I live together, I shall not be
thought the worst poet of the age. It looks as if I had desired him
underhand to write so ill against me; but upon my honest word, I have
not bribed him to do me this service, and am wholly guiltless of his
pamphlet. 'Tis true, I should be glad if I could persuade him to
continue his good offices, and write such another critique on anything
of mine; for I find by experience he has a great stroke with the reader,
when he condemns any of my poems, to make the world have a better
opinion of them. He has taken some pains with my poetry, but nobody
will be persuaded to take the same with his. If I had taken to the
church (as he affirms, but which was never in my thoughts), I should
have had more sense, if not more grace, than to have turned myself out
of my benefice by writing libels on my parishioners. But his account
of my manners and my principles are of a piece with his cavils and his
poetry; and so I have done with him for ever.

As for the City Bard, or Knight Physician, I hear his quarrel to me
is, that I was the author of _Absalom and Achitophel_, which he thinks
was a little hard on his fanatic patrons in London.

But I will deal the more civilly with his two poems, because nothing
ill is to be spoken of the dead, and therefore peace be to the Manes
of his Arthurs. I will only say that it was not for this noble knight
that I drew the plan of an Epic poem on King Arthur in my preface to
the translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of kingdoms were
machines too ponderous for him to manage; and therefore he rejected
them, as Dares did the whirlbats of Eryx, when they were thrown before
him by Entellus. Yet from that preface he plainly took his hint; for
he began immediately upon his story, though he had the baseness not
to acknowledge his benefactor; but instead of it, to traduce me in a

I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, [Footnote: His _Short View of the
Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage_ (1698) was largely
directed against Dryden. See the account of it given in Macaulay's
_Comic Dramatists of the Restoration_.] because in many things he has
taxed me justly, and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and
expressions of mine which can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness,
or immorality, and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph;
if he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be
otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw
my pen in the defence of a bad cause when I have so often drawn it for
a good one. Yet it were not difficult to prove that in many places he
has perverted my meaning by his glosses, and interpreted my words into
blasphemy and bawdry, of which they were not guilty--besides that he
is too much given to horseplay in his raillery, and comes to battle
like a dictator from the plough. I will not say the zeal of God's house
has eaten him up, but I am sure it has devoured some part of his good
manners and civility. It might also be doubted whether it were
altogether zeal which prompted him to this rough manner of proceeding;
perhaps it became not one of his function to rake into the rubbish of
ancient and modern plays. A divine might have employed his pains to
better purpose than in the nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes, whose
examples, as they excuse not me, so it might be possibly supposed that
he read them not without some pleasure. They who have written
commentaries on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have
explained some vices which, without their interpretation, had been
unknown to modern times. Neither has he judged impartially betwixt the
former age and us.

There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, called the _Custom of
the Country_, than in all ours together. Yet this has been often acted
on the stage in my remembrance. Are the times so much more reformed
now than they were five and twenty years ago? If they are, I
congratulate the amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice
the cause of my fellow-poets, though I abandon my own defence; they
have some of them answered for themselves, and neither they nor I can
think Mr. Collier so formidable an enemy that we should shun him. He
has lost ground at the latter end of the day by pursuing his point too
far, like the Prince of Conde at the battle of Senneffe: from immoral
plays to no plays--_ab abusu ad usum, non valet consequentia_.
[Footnote: From the fact that there are immoral plays to the inference
that there should be no plays the argument does not follow.] But being
a party, I am not to erect myself into a judge. As for the rest of
those who have written against me, they are such scoundrels that they
deserve not the least notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and Milbourn
are only distinguished from the crowd by being remembered to their

        ----Demetri teque, Tigelli,
  Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.




The criticism of the 'metaphysical poets' occurs in the Life of Cowley,
published as one of the _Lives of the Poets_ in 1780. The name
'metaphysical poetry' was first devised by Dryden, in his _Essay of
Dramatic Poesy_. It was revived by Johnson, and is now generally
accepted by historians of English literature. It is used by Johnson,
as it was used by Dryden, to express the love of remote analogies,
which was a mark of the poetry of Donne and those who wrote more or
less after the manner of Donne. But it has a deeper meaning than was
probably intended by its inventors. It is no unapt term to indicate
the vein of weighty thought and brooding imagination which runs like
a thread of gold through all the finer work of these poets. Johnson
did no harm in calling attention to the extravagance of much of the
imagery beloved by the lyric poets of the Stuart period. But it is
unpardonable that he should have had no eye for the nobler and subtler
qualities of their genius, and equally unpardonable that he should
have drawn no distinction between three men so incomparable in degree
and kind of power as Cleveland, Cowley, and Donne. Some remarks on the
place of the metaphysical poets in English literature will be found
in the Introduction.

Cowley, like other poets who have written with narrow views, and,
instead of tracing intellectual pleasure to its natural sources in the
mind of man, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one
time too much praised, and too much neglected at another.

Wit, like all other things subject by their nature to the choice of
man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times takes
different forms. About the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared
a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets; of whom,
in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not improper to give some

The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning
was their whole endeavour; but, unluckily resolving to show it in
rhyme, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses, and very
often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the
ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found
to be verses by counting the syllables.

If the father of criticism has rightly denominated poetry, _an imitative
art_, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the
name of poets; for they cannot be said to have imitated anything; they
neither copied nature nor life; neither painted the forms of matter,
nor represented the operations of intellect.

Those, however, who deny them to be poets, allow them to be wits.
Dryden confesses of himself and his contemporaries that they fall below
Donne in wit, but maintains that they surpass him in poetry.

If wit be well described by Pope, as being "that which has been often
thought, but was never before so well expressed", they certainly never
attained, nor ever sought it; for they endeavoured to be singular in
their thoughts, and were careless of their diction. But Pope's account
of wit is undoubtedly erroneous: he depresses it below its natural
dignity, and reduces it from strength of thought to happiness of

If by a more noble and more adequate conception that be considered as
wit which is at once natural and new, that which, though not obvious,
is, upon its first production, acknowledged to be just; if it be that
which he that never found it wonders how he missed; to wit of this
kind the metaphysical poets have seldom risen. Their thoughts are often
new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they
just; and the reader, far from wondering that he missed them, wonders
more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found.

But wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more
rigorously and philosophically considered as a kind of _discordia
concors_; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult
resemblances in things apparently unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they
have more than enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by
violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations,
comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety
surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought,
and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

From this account of their compositions it will be readily inferred
that they were not successful in representing or moving the affections.
As they were wholly employed on something unexpected and surprising,
they had no regard to that uniformity of sentiment which enables us
to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasure of other minds:
they never inquired what, on any occasion, they should have said or
done; but wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature;
as Beings looking upon good and evil, impassive and at leisure; as
Epicurean deities making remarks on the actions of men and the
vicissitudes of life without interest and without emotion. Their
courtship was void of fondness, and their lamentation of sorrow. Their
wish was only to say what they hoped had never been said before.

Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetic; for
they never attempted that comprehension and expanse of thought which
at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is sudden
astonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced
by aggregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always
general, and consist in positions not limited by exceptions, and in
descriptions not descending to minuteness. It is with great propriety
that subtlety, which in its original import means exility of particles,
is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of distinction. Those
writers who lay on the watch for novelty could have little hope of
greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation.
Their attempts were always analytic; they broke every image into
fragments: and could no more represent, by their slender conceits and
laboured particularities, the prospects of nature or the scenes of
life, than he who dissects a sunbeam with a prism can exhibit the wide
effulgence of a summer noon.  What they wanted, however, of the sublime,
they endeavoured to supply by hyperbole; their amplification had no
limits; they left not only reason but fancy behind them; and produced
combinations of confused magnificence that not only could not be
credited, but could not be imagined.

Yet great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly lost:
if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they
likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth: if their conceits were
far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their
plan, it was at least necessary to read and think. No man could be
born a metaphysical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by
descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from
imitations, by traditional imagery and hereditary similes, by readiness
of rhyme and volubility of syllables.

In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised
either by recollection or inquiry; either something already learned
is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their
greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the
imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection
and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which
ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful
knowledge may be sometimes found, buried perhaps in grossness of
expression, but useful to those who know their value; and such as,
when they are expanded to perspicuity and polished to elegance, may
give lustre to works which have more propriety though less copiousness
of sentiment.

This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino
[Footnote: As Marino's chief poem, _L'Adone_, was not published till
1623, and as most of Donne's poems must have been written earlier,
this is very unlikely. Besides, the resemblance is more apparent than
real. Metaphysical poetry was a native product. See Introduction.]
and his followers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man
of very extensive and various knowledge; and by Jonson, whose manner
resembled that of Donne more in the ruggedness of his lines than in
the cast of his sentiments.

When their reputation was high, they had undoubtedly more imitators
than time has left behind. Their immediate successors, of whom any
remembrance can be said to remain, were Suckling, Waller, Denham,
Cowley, Cleveland, and Milton. Denham and Waller sought another way
to fame, by improving the harmony of our numbers. Milton tried the
metaphysic style only in his lines upon Hobson the Carrier. Cowley
adopted it, and excelled his predecessors, having as much sentiment
and more music. Suckling neither improved versification, nor abounded
in conceits. The fashionable style remained chiefly with Cowley;
Suckling could not reach it, and Milton disdained it.

Critical remarks are not easily understood without examples, and I
have therefore collected instances of the modes of writing by which
this species of poets, for poets they were called by themselves and
their admirers, was eminently distinguished.

As the authors of this race were perhaps more desirous of being admired
than understood, they sometimes drew their conceits from recesses of
learning not very much frequented by common readers of poetry. Thus
Cowley on _Knowledge_:

  The sacred tree midst the fair orchard grew;
    The phoenix Truth did on it rest.
    And built his perfum'd nest,
  That right Porphyrian tree which did true logick shew.
    Each leaf did learned notions give,
    And th' apples were demonstrative:
    So clear their colour and divine,
  The very shade they cast did other lights outshine.

On Anacreon continuing a lover in his old age:

  Love was with thy life entwin'd,
  Close as heat with fire is join'd,
  A powerful brand prescrib'd the date
  Of thine, like Meleager's fate.
  The antiperistasis of age
  More enflam'd thy amorous rage.

In the following verses we have an allusion to a Rabbinical opinion
concerning Manna:

  Variety I ask not: give me one
  To live perpetually upon.
  The person Love does to us fit,
  Like manna, has the taste of all in it.

Thus Donne shows his medicinal knowledge in some encomiastic verses:

  In everything there naturally grows
    A Balsamum to keep it fresh and new,
  If't were not injur'd by extrinsique blows;
    Your youth and beauty are this balm in you.
  But you, of learning and religion,
    And virtue and such ingredients, have made
  A mithridate, whose operation
    Keeps off, or cures what can be done or said.

Though the following lines of Donne, on the last night of the year,
have something in them too scholastic, they are not inelegant:

  This twilight of two years, not past nor next,
    Some emblem is of me, or I of this,
  Who, meteor-like, of stuff and form perplext,
    Whose what and where, in disputation is,
    If I should call me any thing, should miss.

  I sum the years and me, and find me not
    Debtor to th' old, nor creditor to th' new,
  That cannot say, my thanks I have forgot,
    Nor trust I this with hopes: and yet scarce true
    This bravery is, since these times shew'd me you.

Yet more abstruse and profound is Donne's reflection upon Man as a

  If men be worlds, there is in every one
  Something to answer in some proportion
  All the world's riches: and in good men, this
  Virtue, our form's form, and our soul's soul is.

Of thoughts so far-fetched as to be not only unexpected but unnatural,
all their books are full.


  They, who above do various circles find,
  Say, like a ring th' aquator heaven does bind.
  When heaven shall be adorn'd by thee,
  (Which then more heaven than 't is, will be)
  'T is thou must write the poesy there,
  For it wanteth one as yet,
  Though the sun pass through 't twice a year,
  The sun, which is esteem'd the god of wit.

The difficulties which have been raised about identity in philosophy
are by Cowley, with still more perplexity, applied to Love:

  Five years ago (says story) I lov'd you,
  For which you call me most inconstant now;
  Pardon me, madam, you mistake the man;
  For I am not the same that I was then;
  No flesh is now the same't was then in me,

  And that my mind is chang'd yourself may see.
  The same thoughts to retain still, and intents,
  Were more inconstant far; for accidents
  Must of all things most strangely inconstant prove,
  If from one subject they t' another move:
  My members then, the father members were
  From whence these take their birth, which now are here.
  If then this body love what th' other did,
  'T were incest, which by nature is forbid.

The love of different women is, in geographical poetry, compared to
travels, through different countries:

  Hast thou not found each woman's breast
    (The land where thou hast travelled)
  Either by savages possest,
    Or wild, and uninhabited?
    What joy could'st take, or what repose,
  In countries so unciviliz'd as those?
  Lust, the scorching dog-star, here
    Rages with immoderate heat;
  Whilst Pride, the rugged Northern Bear,
    In others makes the cold too great.
  And when these are temperate known,
  The soil's all barren sand, or rocky stone.

A lover, burnt up by his affections, is compared to Egypt:

    The fate of Egypt I sustain,
    And never feel the dew of rain.
  From clouds which in the head appear;
    But all my too much moisture owe
    To overflowings of the heart below.

The lover supposes his lady acquainted with the ancient laws of augury
and rites of sacrifice:

  And yet this death of mine, I fear,
  Will ominous to her appear:
    When found in every other part,
  Her sacrifice is found without an heart.
    For the last tempest of my death
  Shall sigh out that too, with my breath.

That the chaos was harmonized, has been recited of old; but whence the
different sounds arose remained for a modern to discover:

  Th' ungovern'd parts no correspondence knew,
  And artless war from thwarting motions grew;
  Till they to number and fixt rules were brought.
  Water and air he for the Tenor chose.
  Earth made the Base, the Treble flame arose.

The tears of lovers are always of great poetical account, but Donne
has extended them into worlds. If the lines are not easily understood,
they may be read again:

                           On a round ball
  A workman, that hath copies by, can lay
  An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,
  And quickly make that, which was nothing, all.
    So doth each tear,
    Which thee doth wear,
  A globe, yea world, by that impression grow,
  Till thy tears mixt with mine do overflow
  This world, by waters sent from thee my heaven dissolved so.

On reading the following lines, the reader may perhaps cry out,
"Confusion worse confounded":

  Here lies a she sun, and a he moon here,
    She gives the best light to his sphere,
    Or each is both, and all, and so
  They unto one another nothing owe.

Who but Donne would have thought that a good man is a telescope?

  Though God be our true glass, through which we see
  All, since the being of all things is He,
  Yet are the trunks, which do to us derive
  Things, in proportion fit, by perspective
  Deeds of good men; for by their living here,
  Virtues, indeed remote, seem to be near.

Who would imagine it possible that in a very few lines so many remote
ideas could be brought together?

  Since't is my doom, Love's undershrieve,
      Why this reprieve?
  Why doth my She Advowson fly
  To sell thyself dost thou intend
      By candle's end,
  And hold the contrast thus in doubt,
      Life's taper out?
  Think but how soon the market fails,
  Your sex lives faster than the males;
  As if to measure age's span,
  The sober Julian were th' account of man,
  Whilst you live by the fleet Gregorian.

Of enormous and disgusting hyperboles, these may be examples:

    By every wind, that comes this way,
    Send me at least a sigh or two,
    Such and so many I'll repay
  As shall themselves make winds to get to you.

    In tears I'll waste these eyes,
    By Love so vainly fed;
  So lust of old the Deluge punished.

  All arm'd in brass the richest dress of war,
  (A dismal glorious sight) he shone afar.
  The sun himself started with sudden fright,
  To see his beams return so dismal bright.

An universal consternation:

  His bloody eyes he hurls round, his sharp paws
  Tear up the ground; then runs he wild about,
  Lashing his angry tail and roaring out.

  Beasts creep into their dens, and tremble there;
  Trees, though no wind is stirring, shake with fear;
  Silence and horror fill the place around:
  Echo itself dares scarce repeat the sound.

 Their fictions were often violent and unnatural.


  The fish around her crowded, as they do
  To the false light that treacherous fishers shew,
  And all with as much ease might taken be,
    As she at first took me:
    For ne'er did light so clear
    Among the waves appear,
  Though every night the sun himself set there.

The poetical effect of a lover's name upon glass:

            My name engrav'd herein
  Doth contribute my firmness to this glass;
    Which, ever since that charm, hath been
  As hard as that which grav'd it was.

Their conceits were sometimes slight and trifling.


  He enjoys thy calmy sunshine now,
    And no breath stirring hears,
  In the clear heaven of thy brow,
    No smallest cloud appears.
    He sees thee gentle, fair and gay,
  And trusts the faithless April of thy May.

Upon a paper written with the juice of lemon, and read by the fire:

    Nothing yet in thee is seen:
    But when a genial heat warms thee within,
  A new-born wood of various lines there grows;
    Here buds an L, and there a B,
    Here sprouts a V, and there a T,
  And all the flourishing letters stand in rows.

As they sought only for novelty, they did not much inquire whether
their allusions were to things high or low, elegant or gross; whether
they compared the little to the great, or the great to the little.


  Gently, ah gently, madam, touch
    The wound, which you yourself have made;
  That pain must needs be very much,
    Which makes me of your hand afraid.
  Cordials of pity give me now,
  For I too weak for purgings grow.


  Mahol, th' inferior world's fantastic face,
  Through all the turns of matter's maze did trace;
  Great Nature's well-set clock in pieces took;
  On all the springs and smallest wheels did look
  Of life and motion; and with equal art
  Made up again the whole of every part.

A coal-pit has not often found its poet; but, that it may not want its
due honour, Cleveland has paralleled it with the sun:

  The moderate value of our guiltless ore
  Makes no man atheist, and no woman whore;
  Yet why should hallow'd vestals' sacred shrine
  Deserve more honour than a flaming mine?
  These pregnant wombs of heat would fitter be
  Than a few embers, for a deity.

    Had he our pits, the Persian would admire
  No sun, but warm's devotion at our fire:
  He'd leave the trotting whipster, and prefer
  Our profound Vulcan 'bove that waggoner.
  For wants he heat or light? or would have store
  Of both? 'tis here: and what can suns give more?
  Nay, what's the sun but, in a different name,
  A coal-pit rampant, or a mine on flame!
  Then let this truth reciprocally run
  The sun's heaven's coalery, and coals our sun.

               DEATH, A VOYAGE.

                               No family
  E'er rigg'd a soul for heaven's discovery,
  With whom more venturers might boldly dare
  Venture their stakes, with him in joy to share.

Their thoughts and expressions were sometimes grossly absurd, and such
as no figures or licence can reconcile to the understanding.


  Then down I laid my head,
  Down on cold earth; and for a while was dead,
  And my freed soul to a strange somewhere fled:
  Ah, sottish soul, said I,
  When back to its cage again I saw it fly:
  Fool to resume her broken chain!
  And row her galley here again!
  Fool, to that body to return
  Where it condemn'd and destin'd is to burn!
  Once dead, how can it be,
  Death should a thing so pleasant seem to thee,
  That thou should'st come to live it o'er again in me?


  Wo to her stubborn heart, if once mine come
    Into the self-same room,
    'T will tear and blow up all within,
  Like a grenado shot into a magazin.

  Then shall Love keep the ashes, and torn parts,
    Of both our broken hearts:
    Shall out of both one new one make;
  From hers th' allay; from mine, the metal take.


  The Prince's favour is diffus'd o'er all,
   From which all fortunes, names, and natures fall;
   Then from those wombs of stars, the Bride's bright eyes,
   At every glance a constellation flies,
   And sows the court with stars, and doth prevent
   In light and power, the all-ey'd firmament:
   First her eye kindles other ladies' eyes,
   Then from their beams their jewels' lustres rise;
   And from their jewels torches do take fire,
   And all is warmth, and light, and good desire.

They were in very little care to clothe their notions with elegance
of dress, and therefore miss the notice and the praise which are often
gained by those who think less, but are more diligent to adorn their

That a mistress beloved is fairer in idea than in reality is by Cowley
thus expressed:

  Thou in my fancy dost much higher stand,
  Than woman can be plac'd by Nature's hand;
  And I must needs, I'm sure, a loser be,
  To change thee, as thou 'rt there, for very thee.

That prayer and labour should co-operate are thus taught by Donne:

  In none but us, are such mixt engines found,
  As hands of double office: for the ground
  We till with them; and them to heaven we raise;
  Who prayerless labours, or without this, prays,
  Doth but one half, that's none.

By the same author, a common topic, the danger of procrastination, is
thus illustrated:

--That which I should have begun   In my youth's morning, now late
must be done;   And I, as giddy travellers must do,   Which stray or
sleep all day, and having lost   Light and strength, dark and tir'd
must then ride post.

All that Man has to do is to live and die; the sum of humanity is
comprehended by Donne in the following lines:

  Think in how poor a prison thou didst lie;
  After, enabled but to suck and cry.
  Think, when't was grown to most, 't was a poor inn,
  A province pack'd up in two yards of skin,
  And that usurp'd, or threaten'd with a rage
  Of sicknesses, or their true mother, age.
  But think that death hath now enfranchis'd thee;
  Thou hast thy expansion now, and liberty;
  Think, that a rusty piece discharg'd is flown
  In pieces, and the bullet is his own,
  And freely flies; this to thy soul allow,
  Think thy shell broke, think thy soul hatched but now.

They were sometimes indelicate and disgusting. Cowley thus apostrophizes

--Thou tyrant, which leav'st no man free!   Thou subtle thief, from
whom nought safe can be!   Thou murderer, which hast kill'd, and devil,
which would'st damn me.

Thus he addresses his mistress:

  Thou who, in many a propriety,
  So truly art the sun to me.
  Add one more likeness, which I'm sure you can,
  And let me and my sun beget a man.

Thus he represents the meditations of a lover:

  Though in thy thoughts scarce any tracts have been
  So much as of original sin,
  Such charms thy beauty wears as might
  Desires in dying confest saints excite.
  Thou with strange adultery
  Dost in each breast a brothel keep;
  Awake, all men do lust for thee,
  And some enjoy thee when they sleep.

The true taste of tears:

  Hither with crystal vials, lovers, come,
    And take my tears, which are Love's wine,
  And try your mistress' tears at home;
    For all are false, that taste not just like mine.

This is yet more indelicate:

  As the sweet sweat of roses in a still
  As that which from chaf'd musk-cat's pores doth trill,
  As th' almighty balm of th' early East,
  Such are the sweet drops of my mistress' breast.
  And on her neck her skin such lustre sets,
  They seem no sweat-drops, but pearl coronets:
  Rank sweaty froth thy mistress' brow defiles.

Their expressions sometimes raise horror, when they intend perhaps to
be pathetic:

  As men in hell are from diseases free,
    So from all other ills am I.
    Free from their known formality:
  But all pains eminently lie in thee.

They were not always strictly curious, whether the opinions from which
they drew their illustrations were true; it was enough that they were
popular. Bacon remarks that some falsehoods are continued by tradition,
because they supply commodious allusions.

  It gave a piteous groan, and so it broke;
  In vain it something would have spoke:
  The love within too strong for't was,
  Like poison put into a Venice-glass.

In forming descriptions, they looked out, not for images, but for
conceits. Night has been a common subject, which poets have contended
to adorn. Dryden's Night is well known; Donne's is as follows:

  Thou seest me here at midnight, now all rest:
  Time's dead low-water; when all minds divest
  To-morrow's business, when the labourers have
  Such rest in bed, that their last church-yard grave,
  Subject to change, will scarce be a type of this;
  Now when the client, whose last hearing is
  To-morrow, sleeps; when the condemned man,
  Who when he opens his eyes, must shut them then
  Again by death, although sad watch he keep,
  Doth practise dying by a little sleep,
  Thou at this midnight seest me.

It must be, however, confessed of these writers that if they are upon
common subjects often unnecessarily and unpoetically subtle, yet where
scholastic speculation can be properly admitted, their copiousness and
acuteness may justly be admired. What Cowley has written upon Hope
shows an unequalled fertility of invention:

  Hope, whose weak being ruin'd is,
  Alike if it succeed, and if it miss;
  Whom good or ill does equally confound,
  And both the horns of Fate's dilemma wound.
  Vain shadow, which dost vanish quite,
  Both at full noon and perfect night!
  The stars have not a possibility
  Of blessing thee;
  If things then from their end we happy call,
  'T is hope is the most hopeless thing of all.
  Hope, thou bold taster of delight,
  Who, whilst thou shouldst but taste, devour'st it quite!
  Thou bring'st us an estate, yet leav'st us poor,
  By clogging it with legacies before!
  The joys, which we entire should wed,
  Come deflower'd virgins to our bed;
  Good fortune without gain imported be,
  Such mighty customs paid to thee:
  For joy, like wine, kept close does better taste;
  If it take air before, its spirits waste.

To the following comparison of a man that travels and his wife that
stays at home, with a pair of compasses, it may be doubted whether
absurdity or ingenuity has the better claim:

  Our two souls therefore, which are one,
    Though I must go, endure not yet
  A breach, but an expansion,
    Like gold to airy thinness beat.

  If they be two, they are two so
    As stiff twin-compasses are two,
  Thy soul, the fixt foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth, if th' other do.

  And though it in the centre sit,
    Yet when the other far doth roam,
  It leans, and hearkens after it,
    And grows erect, as that comes home.

  Such wilt thou be to me, who must
    Like th' other foot, obliquely run.
  Thy firmness makes my circle just,
    And makes me end where I begun._

In all these examples it is apparent that whatever is improper or
vicious is produced by a voluntary deviation from nature in pursuit
of something new and strange, and that the writers fail to give delight
by their desire of exciting admiration.




The following passage forms Chapters xiv and xv of Coleridge's
_Biographia Literaria_, published in 1817 It has been selected as
giving a less imperfect impression of his powers as a critic than any
other piece that could have been chosen The truth is that, great in
talk and supreme in poetry, Coleridge was lost directly he sat down
to express himself in prose His style is apt to be cumbrous, and his
matter involved. We feel that the critic himself was greater than any
criticism recorded either in his writings or his lectures The present
extract may be defined as an attempt, and an attempt less inadequate
than was common with Coleridge, to state his poetic creed, and to
illustrate it by reference to his own poetry and to that of Wordsworth
and of Shakespeare. In what he says of Shakespeare he is at his best.
He forgets himself, and writes with a single eye to a theme which was
thoroughly worthy of his powers. In the earlier part of the piece, and
indeed indirectly throughout, he has in mind Wordsworth's famous Preface
to the _Lyrical Ballads_, which is to be found in any complete edition
of Wordsworth's poems, or in his poise writings, as edited by Dr.

During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our
conversation turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry,
the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence
to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty
by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm, which
accidents of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset, diffused over
a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability
of combining both. These are the poetry of nature. The thought suggested
itself (to which of us I do not recollect) that a series of poems might
be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were
to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was
to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth
of such emotions, as would naturally accompany such situations,
supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every
human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time
believed himself under supernatural agency. For the second class,
subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and
incidents were to be such as will be found in every village and its
vicinity where there is a meditative and feeling mind to seek after
them, or to notice them when they present themselves.

In this idea originated the plan of the _Lyrical Ballads;_ [Footnote:
Published in 1798. It opened with the _Ancient Mariner_ and closed
with Wordsworth's lines on _Tintern Abbey._ Among other poems written
in Wordsworth's simplest style were _The Idiot Boy, The Thorn,_ and
_We are Seven._] in which it was agreed that my endeavours should be
directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic;
yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a
semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of
imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which
constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to
propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to
things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the
supernatural, by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of
custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world
before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence
of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet
see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor

With this view I wrote the _Ancient Mariner,_ and was preparing, among
other poems, the _Dark Ladie,_ and the _Christabel,_ in which I should
have more nearly realized my ideal than I had done in my first attempt.
But Mr. Wordsworth's industry had proved so much more successful, and
the number of his poems so much greater, that my compositions, instead
of forming a balance, appeared rather an interpolation of heterogeneous
matter. Mr. Wordsworth added two or three poems written in his own
character, in the impassioned, lofty, and sustained diction which is
characteristic of his genius. In this form the _Lyrical Ballads_ were
published; and were presented by him, as an experiment, whether
subjects, which from their nature rejected the usual ornaments and
extra-colloquial style of poems in general, might not be so managed
in the language of ordinary life as to produce the pleasurable interest
which it is the peculiar business of poetry to impart. To the second
edition he added a preface of considerable length; in which,
notwithstanding some passages of apparently a contrary import, he was
understood to contend for the extension of this style to poetry of all
kinds, and to reject as vicious and indefensible all phrases and forms
of style that were not included in what he (unfortunately, I think,
adopting an equivocal expression) called the language of real life.
From this preface, prefixed to poems in which it was impossible to
deny the presence of original genius, however mistaken its direction
might be deemed, arose the whole long-continued controversy. For from
the conjunction of perceived power with supposed heresy I explain the
inveteracy, and in some instances, I grieve to say, the acrimonious
passions, with which the controversy has been conducted by the

Had Mr. Wordsworth's poems been the silly, the childish things which
they were for a long time described as being; had they been really
distinguished from the compositions of other poets merely by meanness
of language and inanity of thought; had they indeed contained nothing
more than what is found in the parodies and pretended imitations of
them; they must have sunk at once, a dead weight, into the slough of
oblivion, and have dragged the preface along with them. But year after
year increased the number of Mr. Wordsworth's admirers. They were
found, too, not in the lower classes of the reading public, but chiefly
among young men of strong sensibility and meditative minds; and their
admiration (inflamed perhaps in some degree by opposition) was
distinguished by its intensity, I might almost say, by its religious
fervour. These facts, and the intellectual energy of the author, which
was more or less consciously felt, where it was outwardly and even
boisterously denied, meeting with sentiments of aversion to his
opinions, and of alarm at their consequences, produced an eddy of
criticism, which would of itself have borne up the poems by the violence
with which it whirled them round and round. With many parts of this
preface, in the sense attributed to them, and which the words
undoubtedly seem to authorize, I never concurred; but, on the contrary,
objected to them as erroneous in principle, and as contradictory (in
appearance at least) both to other parts of the same preface and to
the author's own practice in the greater number of the poems themselves.
Mr. Wordsworth, in his recent collection, has, I find, degraded this
prefatory disquisition to the end of his second volume, to be read or
not at the reader's choice. But he has not, as far as I can discover,
announced any change in his poetic creed. At all events, considering
it as the source of a controversy, in which I have been honoured more
than I deserve by the frequent conjunction of my name with his, I think
it expedient to declare, once for all, in what points I coincide with
his opinions, and in what points I altogether differ. But in order to
render myself intelligible, I must previously, in as few words as
possible, explain my ideas, first, of a poem; and secondly, of poetry
itself, in kind and in essence.

The office of philosophical disquisition consists in just distinction;
while it is the privilege of the philosopher to preserve himself
constantly aware that distinction is not division. In order to obtain
adequate notions of any truth, we must intellectually separate its
distinguishable parts; and this is the technical process of philosophy.
But having so done, we must then restore them in our conceptions to
the unity in which they actually co-exist; and this is the result of

A poem contains the same elements as a prose composition; the
difference, therefore, must consist in a different combination of them,
in consequence of a different object proposed. According to the
difference of the object will be the difference of the combination.
It is possible that the object may be merely to facilitate the
recollection of any given facts or observations by artificial
arrangement; and the composition will be a poem, merely because it is
distinguished from prose by metre, or by rhyme, or by both conjointly.
In this, the lowest sense, a man might attribute the name of a poem
to the well-known enumeration of the days in the several months:

  Thirty days hath September,
  April, June, and November, &c.

and others of the same class and purpose. And as a particular pleasure
is found in anticipating the recurrence of sounds and quantities, all
compositions that have this charm superadded, whatever be their
contents, _may_ be entitled poems.

So much for the superficial form. A difference of object and contents
supplies an additional ground of distinction. The immediate purpose
may be the communication of truths; either of truth absolute and
demonstrable, as in works of science; or of facts experienced and
recorded, as in history. Pleasure, and that of the highest and most
permanent kind, may result from the attainment of the end; but it is
not itself the immediate end. In other works the communication of
pleasure may be the immediate purpose; and though truth, either moral
or intellectual, ought to be the ultimate end, yet this will distinguish
the character of the author, not the class to which the work belongs.
Blest indeed is that state of society, in which the immediate purpose
would be baffled by the perversion of the proper ultimate end; in which
no charm of diction or imagery could exempt the Bathyllus even of an
Anacreon, or the Alexis of Virgil, from disgust and aversion!

But the communication of pleasure may be the immediate object of a
work not metrically composed; and that object may have been in a high
degree attained, as in novels and romances. Would then the mere
superaddition of metre, with or without rhyme, entitle these to the
name of poems? The answer is, that nothing can permanently please which
does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise.
If metre be superadded, all other parts must be made consonant with
it. They must be such as to justify the perpetual and distinct attention
to each part, which an exact correspondent recurrence of accent and
sound are calculated to excite. The final definition then, so deduced,
may be thus worded. A poem is that species of composition which is
opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object
pleasure, not truth; and from all other species (having this object
in common with it) it is discriminated by proposing to itself such
delight from the whole as is compatible with a distinct gratification
from each component part.

Controversy is not seldom excited in consequence of the disputants
attaching each a different meaning to the same word; and in few
instances has this been more striking than in disputes concerning the
present subject. If a man chooses to call every composition a poem
which is rhyme, or measure, or both, I must leave his opinion
uncontroverted. The distinction is at least competent to characterize
the writer's intention. If it were subjoined that the whole is likewise
entertaining or affecting, as a tale, or as a series of interesting
reflections, I of course admit this as another fit ingredient of a
poem, and an additional merit. But if the definition sought for be
that of a legitimate poem, I answer, it must be one the parts of which
mutually support and explain each other; all in their proportion
harmonizing with, and supporting the purpose and known influences of
metrical arrangement. The philosophic critics of all ages coincide
with the ultimate judgment of all countries, in equally denying the
praises of a just poem, on the one hand to a series of striking lines
or distichs, each of which, absorbing the whole attention of the reader
to itself, disjoins it from its context, and makes it a separate whole,
instead of a harmonizing part; and on the other hand, to an unsustained
composition, from which the reader collects rapidly the general result
unattracted by the component parts. The reader should be carried
forward, not merely or chiefly by the mechanical impulse of curiosity,
or by a restless desire to arrive at the final solution; but by the
pleasurable activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey
itself. Like the motion of a serpent, which the Egyptians made the
emblem of intellectual power; or like the path of sound through the
air, at every step he pauses and half recedes, and from the
retrogressive movement collects the force which again carries him
onward. _Praecipitandus est liber spiritus_, says Petronius Arbiter
most happily. The epithet, _liber_, here balances the preceding verb,
and it is not easy to conceive more meaning condensed in fewer words.

But if this should be admitted as a satisfactory character of a poem,
we have still to seek for a definition of poetry. The writings of Plato
and Bishop Taylor, and the _Theoria Sacra_ of Burnet, furnish undeniable
proofs that poetry of the highest kind may exist without metre, and
even without the contradistinguishing objects of a poem. The first
chapter of Isaiah (indeed a very large proportion of the whole book)
is poetry in the most emphatic sense; yet it would be not less
irrational than strange to assert that pleasure, and not truth, was
the immediate object of the prophet. In short, whatever specific import
we attach to the word poetry, there will be found involved in it, as
a necessary consequence, that a poem of any length neither can be, nor
ought to be, all poetry. Yet if a harmonious whole is to be produced,
the remaining parts must be preserved in keeping with the poetry; and
this can be no otherwise effected than by such a studied selection and
artificial arrangement as will partake of one, though not a peculiar,
property of poetry. And this again can be no other than the property
of exciting a more continuous and equal attention than the language
of prose aims at, whether colloquial or written.

My own conclusions on the nature of poetry, in the strictest use of
the word, have been in part anticipated in the preceding disquisition
on the fancy and imagination. What is poetry? is so nearly the same
question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved
in the solution of the other. For it is a distinction resulting from
the poetic genius itself, which sustains and modifies the images,
thoughts, and emotions of the poet's own mind. The poet, described in
ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the
subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their
relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity
that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic
and magical power to which we have exclusively appropriated the name
of imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and
understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and
unnoticed, control (_laxis effertur habenis_), reveals itself in the
balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of
sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea,
with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of
novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects; a more than usual
state of emotion, with more than usual order; judgment ever awake and
steady self-possession, with enthusiasm and feeling profound or
vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the
artificial, still subordinates art to nature, the manner to the matter,
and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry.

Doubtless, as Sir John Davies observes of the soul (and his words may
with slight alteration be applied, and even more appropriately, to the
poetic imagination),--

  Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns
  Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,
  As fire converts to fire the things it burns,
  As we our food into our nature change.

  From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
  And draws a kind of quintessence from things;
  Which to her proper nature she transforms
  To bear them light on her celestial wings.

  Thus does she, when from individual states
  She doth abstract the universal kinds;
  Which then re-clothed in divers names and fates
  Steal access through our senses to our minds.

Finally, good sense is the body of poetic genius, fancy its drapery,
motion its life, and imagination the soul that is everywhere, and in
each; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.

In the application of these principles to purposes of practical
criticism as employed in the appraisal of works more or less imperfect,
I have endeavoured to discover what the qualities in a poem are, which
may be deemed promises and specific symptoms of poetic power, as
distinguished from general talent determined to poetic composition by
accidental motives, by an act of the will, rather than by the
inspiration of a genial and productive nature. In this investigation,
I could not, I thought, do better than keep before me the earliest
work of the greatest genius that perhaps human nature has yet produced,
our myriad-minded Shakespeare. I mean the _Venus and Adonis_, and the
_Lucrece_; works which give at once strong promises of the strength,
and yet obvious proofs of the immaturity, of his genius. From these
I abstracted the following marks, as characteristics of original poetic
genius in general.

I. In the _Venus and Adonis_ the first and obvious excellence is the
perfect sweetness of the versification, its adaptation to the subject,
and the power displayed in varying the march of the words without
passing into a loftier and more majestic rhythm than was demanded by
the thoughts, or permitted by the propriety of preserving a sense of
melody predominant. The delight in richness and sweetness of sound,
even to a faulty excess, if it be evidently original, and not the
result of an easily imitable mechanism, I regard as a highly favourable
promise in the compositions of a young man. "The man that hath not
music in his soul" can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery (even
taken from nature, much more when transplanted from books, as travels,
voyages, and works of natural history), affecting incidents, just
thoughts, interesting personal or domestic feelings, and with these
the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem,
may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talents
and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an
intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius; the
love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the peculiar means. But
the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a
gift of imagination; and this, together with the power of reducing
multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by
some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved,
but can never be learnt. It is in these that _Poeta nascitur non fit_.

2. A second promise of genius is the choice of subjects very remote
from the private interests and circumstances of the writer himself.
At least I have found that where the subject is taken immediately from
the author's personal sensations and experiences, the excellence of
a particular poem is but an equivocal mark, and often a fallacious
pledge, of genuine poetic power. We may perhaps remember the tale of
the statuary, who had acquired considerable reputation for the legs
of his goddesses, though the rest of the statue accorded but
indifferently with ideal beauty; till his wife, elated by her husband's
praises, modestly acknowledged that she herself had been his constant
model. In the _Venus and Adonis_ this proof of poetic power exists
even to excess. It is throughout as if a superior spirit, more
intuitive, more intimately conscious even than the characters
themselves, not only of every outward look and act, but of the flux
and reflux of the mind in all its subtlest thoughts and feelings, were
placing the whole before our view; himself meanwhile unparticipating
in the passions, and actuated only by that pleasurable excitement which
had resulted from the energetic fervour of his own spirit, in so vividly
exhibiting what it had so accurately and profoundly contemplated. I
think I should have conjectured from these poems that even then the
great instinct which impelled the poet to the drama was secretly working
in him, prompting him by a series and never-broken chain of imagery,
always vivid, and because unbroken, often minute; by the highest effort
of the picturesque in words, of which words are capable, higher perhaps
than was ever realized by any other poet, even Dante not excepted; to
provide a substitute for that visual language, that constant
intervention and running comment by tone, look, and gesture, which,
in his dramatic works, he was entitled to expect from the players. His
Venus and Adonis seem at once the characters themselves, and the whole
representation of those characters by the most consummate actors. You
seem to be told nothing, but to see and hear everything. Hence it is
that from the perpetual activity of attention required on the part of
the reader; from the rapid flow, the quick change, and the playful
nature of the thoughts and images; and, above all, from the alienation,
and, if I may hazard such an expression, the utter aloofness of the
poet's own feelings from those of which he is at once the painter and
the analyst; that, though the very subject cannot but detract from the
pleasure of a delicate mind, yet never was poem less dangerous on a
moral account. Instead of doing as Ariosto, and as, still more
offensively, Wieland has done; instead of degrading and deforming
passion into appetite, the trials of love into the struggles of
concupiscence, Shakespeare has here represented the animal impulse
itself so as to preclude all sympathy with it, by dissipating the
reader's notice among the thousand outward images, and now beautiful,
now fanciful circumstances, which form its dresses and its scenery;
or by diverting our attention from the main subject by those frequent
witty or profound reflections which the poet's ever active mind has
deduced from, or connected with, the imagery and the incidents. The
reader is forced into too much action to sympathize with the merely
passive of our nature. As little can a mind thus roused and awakened
be brooded on by mean and instinct emotion, as the low, lazy mist can
creep upon the surface of a lake while a strong gale is driving it
onward in waves and billows.

3. It has been before observed that images, however beautiful, though
faithfully copied from nature, and as accurately represented in words,
do not of themselves characterize the poet. They become proofs of
original genius only as far as they are modified by a predominant
passion; or by associated thoughts or images awakened by that passion;
or when they have the effect of reducing multitude to unity, or
succession to an instant; or, lastly, when a human and intellectual
life is transferred to them from the poet's own spirit,

  Which shoots its being through earth, sea, and air.

In the two following lines, for instance, there is nothing
objectionable, nothing which would preclude them from forming, in their
proper place, part of a descriptive poem:

  Behold yon row of pines, that shorn and bow'd
  Bend from the sea-blast, seen at twilight eve.

But with the small alteration of rhythm, the same words would be equally
in their place in a book of topography, or in a descriptive tour. The
same image will rise into a semblance of poetry if thus conveyed:

  Yon row of bleak and visionary pines,
  By twilight-glimpse discerned, mark! how they flee
  From the fierce sea-blast, all their tresses wild
  Streaming before them.

I have given this as an illustration, by no means as an instance, of
that particular excellence which I had in view, and in which
Shakespeare, even in his earliest as in his latest works, surpasses
all other poets. It is by this that he still gives a dignity and a
passion to the objects which he presents. Unaided by any previous
excitement, they burst upon us at once in life and in power.

  Full many a glorious morning have I seen
  _Flatter_ the mountain-tops with sovereign eye.
                     --_Sonnet_ 33.

  Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
  Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
  Can yet the lease of my true love control,
  Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
  The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
  And the sad augurs mock their own presage:
  Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
  And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
  Now with the drops of this most balmy time
  My love looks fresh: and Death to me subscribes,
  Since, spite of him, I'll live in this poor rhyme,
  While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes.
    And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
    When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.
                     --_Sonnet_ 107.

As of higher worth, so doubtless still more characteristic of poetic
genius does the imagery become, when it moulds and colours itself to
the circumstances, passion, or character, present and foremost in the
mind. For unrivalled instances of this excellence the reader's own
memory will refer him to the _Lear, Othello,_ in short, to which not
of the _'great, ever living, dead man's'_ dramatic works? _Inopem me
copia fecit_. How true it is to nature, he has himself finely expressed
in the instance of love in

_Sonnet_ 98:

  From you have I been absent in the spring,
  When proud-pied April drest in all his trim
  Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
  That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
  Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
  Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
  Could make me any summer's story tell,
  Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew
  Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
  Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
  They were, but sweet, but figures of delight,
  Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
    Yet seem'd it winter still and, you away,
    _As with your shadow I with these did play!_

Scarcely less sure, or if a less valuable, not less indispensable mark

[Greek text, transliterated]

  Gonzmou men Poihtou----------
  ----------ostis rhma gennaion lakoi,

will the imagery supply when, with more than the power of the painter,
the poet gives us the liveliest image of succession with the feeling
of simultaneousness!

  With this he breaketh from the sweet embrace
  Of those fair arms, that bound him to her breast,
  And homeward through the dark laund runs apace:
  _Look how a bright star shooteth from the sky!
  So glides he in the night from Venus' eye._
                     --_Venus and Adonis_, 1. 811.

4. The last character I shall mention, which would prove indeed but
little, except as taken conjointly with the former; yet without which
the former could scarce exist in a high degree, and (even if this were
possible) would give promises only of transitory flashes and a meteoric
power;--its depth and energy of thought. No man was ever yet a great
poet without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry
is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts,
human passions, emotions, language. In Shakespeare's Poems the creative
power and the intellectual energy wrestle as in a war embrace. Each
in its excess of strength seems to threaten the extinction of the
other. At length, in the drama they were reconciled, and fought each
with its shield before the breast of the other. Or like two rapid
streams that, at their first meeting within narrow and rocky banks,
mutually strive to repel each other, and intermix reluctantly and in
tumult, but soon finding a wider channel and more yielding shores,
blend and dilate, and flow on in one current and with one voice. The
_Venus and Adonis_ did not perhaps allow the display of the deeper
passions. But the story of Lucretia seems to favour, and even demand,
their intensest workings. And yet we find in Shakespeare's management
of the tale neither pathos nor any other dramatic quality. There is
the same minute and faithful imagery as in the former poem, in the
same vivid colours, inspirited by the same impetuous vigour of thought,
and diverging and contracting with the same activity of the assimilative
and of the modifying faculties; and with a yet larger display, a yet
wider range of knowledge and reflection; and lastly, with the same
perfect dominion, often domination, over the whole world of language.
What, then, shall we say? even this, that Shakespeare, no mere child
of nature; no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of inspiration
possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied patiently,
meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge, become habitual
and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length
gave birth to that stupendous power, by which he stands alone, with
no equal or second in his own class; to that power which seated him
on one of the two glory-smitten summits of the poetic mountain, with
Milton as his compeer, not rival. While the former darts himself forth,
and passes into all the forms of human character and passion, the one
Proteus of the fire and the flood; the other attracts all forms and
things to himself, into the unity of his own ideal. All things and
modes of action shape themselves anew in the being of Milton; while
Shakespeare becomes all things, yet for ever remaining himself. O what
great men hast thou not produced, England, my country! Truly, indeed,

  Must we be free or die, who speak the tongue,
  Which Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold,
  Which Milton held. In every thing we are sprung
  Of earth's first blood, have titles manifold.




This was the first of a series of lectures on English poets, delivered
in 1818, and published in the same year. It has been reprinted in the
collected edition of Hazlitt's works (Bohn). It is a striking sample
of Hazlitt's brilliance as a writer; and it is free from the faults
of temper, and consequent errors of judgment, which, especially when
he is dealing with modern authors, must be held in some degree to mar
his greatness as a critic. It has been chosen partly for these reasons;
partly also for those assigned in the Introduction. There is perhaps
no other passage in the long roll of his writings that so clearly marks
his place in the development of English criticism.

The best general notion which I can give of poetry is, that it is the
natural impression of any object or event, by its vividness exciting
an involuntary movement of imagination and passion, and producing, by
sympathy, a certain modulation of the voice, or sounds, expressing it.
In treating of poetry, I shall speak first of the subject-matter of
it, next of the forms of expression to which it gives birth, and
afterwards of its connection with harmony of sound.  Poetry is the
language of the imagination and the passions. It relates to whatever
gives immediate pleasure or pain to the human mind. It comes home to
the bosoms and businesses of men; for nothing but what so comes home
to them in the most general and intelligible shape can be a subject
for poetry. Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds
with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry cannot have
much respect for himself, or for anything else. It is not a mere
frivolous accomplishment (as some persons have been led to imagine),
the trifling amusement of a few idle readers or leisure hours: it has
been the study and delight of mankind in all ages. Many people suppose
that poetry is something to be found only in books, contained in lines
of ten syllables with like endings: but wherever there is a sense of
beauty, or power, or harmony, as in the motion of a wave of the sea,
in the growth of a flower that "spreads its sweet leaves to the air,
and dedicates its beauty to the sun",--_there_ is poetry, in its birth.
If history is a grave study, poetry may be said to be a graver: its
materials lie deeper, and are spread wider. History treats, for the
most part, of the cumbrous and unwieldy masses of things, the empty
cases in which the affairs of the world are packed, under the heads
of intrigue or war, in different states, and from century to century:
but there is no thought or feeling that can have entered into the mind
of man, which he would be eager to communicate to others, or which
they would listen to with delight, that is not a fit subject for poetry.
It is not a branch of authorship: it is "the stuff of which our life
is made". The rest is "mere oblivion", a dead letter: for all that is
worth remembering in life is the poetry of it. Fear is poetry, hope
is poetry, love is poetry, hatred is poetry; contempt, jealousy,
remorse, admiration, wonder, pity, despair, or madness, are all poetry.
Poetry is that fine particle within us, that expands, rarefies, refines,
raises our whole being: without it "man's life is poor as beast's".
Man is a poetical animal: and those of us who do not study the
principles of poetry, act upon them all our lives, like Moliere's
_Bourgeois Gentilhomme_, who had always spoken prose without knowing
it. The child is a poet, in fact, when he first plays at Hide-and-seek,
or repeats the story of Jack the Giant-killer; the shepherd-boy is a
poet when he first crowns his mistress with a garland of flowers; the
countryman, when he stops to look at the rainbow; the city apprentice,
when he gazes after the Lord Mayor's show; the miser, when he hugs his
gold; the courtier, who builds his hopes upon a smile; the savage, who
paints his idol with blood; the slave, who worships a tyrant; or the
tyrant, who fancies himself a god; the vain, the ambitious, the proud,
the choleric man, the hero and the coward, the beggar and the king,
the rich and the poor, the young and the old, all live in a world of
their own making; and the poet does no more than describe what all the
others think and act. If his art is folly and madness, it is folly and
madness at second hand. "There is warrant for it." Poets alone have
not "such seething brains, such shaping fantasies, that apprehend more
than cooler reason" can.

  The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
  Are of imagination all compact.
  One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
  That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
  Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
  The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
  Doth glance from heav'n to earth, from earth to heav'n;
  And, as imagination bodies forth
  The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
  Turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing
  A local habitation and a name.
  Such tricks hath strong imagination.

If poetry is a dream, the business of life is much the same. If it is
a fiction, made up of what we wish things to be, and fancy that they
are, because we wish them so, there is no other nor better reality.
Ariosto has described the loves of Angelica and Medoro: but was not
Medoro, who carved the name of his mistress on the barks of trees, as
much enamoured of her charms as he? Homer has celebrated the anger of
Achilles: but was not the hero as mad as the poet? Plato banished the
poets from his Commonwealth, lest their descriptions of the natural
man should spoil his mathematical man, who was to be without passions
and affections--who was neither to laugh nor weep, to feel sorrow nor
anger, to be cast down nor elated by anything. This was a chimera,
however, which never existed but in the brain of the inventor; and
Homer's poetical world has outlived Plato's philosophical Republic.

Poetry then is an imitation of nature, but the imagination and the
passions are a part of man's nature. We shape things according to our
wishes and fancies, without poetry; but poetry is the most emphatical
language that can be found for those creations of the mind "which
ecstasy is very cunning in". Neither a mere description of natural
objects, nor a mere delineation of natural feelings, however distinct
or forcible, constitutes the ultimate end and aim of poetry, without
the heightenings of the imagination. The light of poetry is not only
a direct but also a reflected light, that while it shows us the object,
throws a sparkling radiance on all around it: the flame of the passions,
communicated to the imagination, reveals to us, as with a flash of
lightning, the inmost recesses of thought, and penetrates our whole
being. Poetry represents forms chiefly as they suggest other forms:
feelings, as they suggest forms or other feelings. Poetry puts a spirit
of life and motion into the universe. It describes the flowing, not
the fixed. It does not define the limits of sense, or analyse the
distinctions of the understanding, but signifies the excess of the
imagination beyond the actual or ordinary impression of any object or
feeling. The poetical impression of any object is that uneasy, exquisite
sense of beauty or power that cannot be contained within itself, that
is impatient of all limit, that (as flame bends to flame) strives to
link itself to some other image of kindred beauty or grandeur, to
enshrine itself, as it were, in the highest forms of fancy, and to
relieve the aching sense of pleasure by expressing it in the boldest
manner, and by the most striking examples of the same quality in other
instances. Poetry, according to Lord Bacon, for this reason "has
something divine in it, because it raises the mind and hurries it into
sublimity, by conforming the shows of things to the desires of the
soul, instead of subjecting the soul to external things, as reason and
history do". It is strictly the language of the imagination; and the
imagination is that faculty which represents objects, not as they are
in themselves, but as they are moulded by other thoughts and feelings,
into an infinite variety of shapes and combinations of power. This
language is not the less true to nature, because it is false in point
of fact; but so much the more true and natural, if it conveys the
impression which the object under the influence of passion makes on
the mind. Let an object, for instance, be presented to the senses in
a state of agitation or fear, and the imagination will distort or
magnify the object, and convert it into the likeness of whatever is
most proper to encourage the fear. "Our eyes are made the fools" of
our other faculties. This is the universal law of the imagination:

  That if it would but apprehend some joy,
  It comprehends some bringer of that joy:
  Or in the night imagining some fear,
  How easy is each bush suppos'd a bear!

When Iachimo says of Imogen:

          ---The flame o' th' taper
  Bows toward her, and would under-peep her lids
  To see the enclosed lights--

This passionate interpretation of the motion of the flame, to accord
with the speaker's own feelings, is true poetry. The lover, equally
with the poet, speaks of the auburn tresses of his mistress as locks
of shining gold, because the least tinge of yellow in the hair has,
from novelty and a sense of personal beauty, a more lustrous effect
to the imagination than the purest gold. We compare a man of gigantic
stature to a tower: not that he is anything like so large, but because
the excess of his size beyond what we are accustomed to expect, or the
usual size of things of the same class, produces by contrast a greater
feeling of magnitude and ponderous strength than another object of ten
times the same dimensions. The intensity of the feeling makes up for
the disproportion of the objects. Things are equal to the imagination,
which have the power of affecting the mind with an equal degree of
terror, admiration, delight, or love. When Lear calls upon the heavens
to avenge his cause, "for they are old like him", there is nothing
extravagant or impious in this sublime identification of his age with
theirs; for there is no other image which could do justice to the
agonizing sense of his wrongs and his despair!

Poetry is the high-wrought enthusiasm of fancy and feeling. As in
describing natural objects, it impregnates sensible impressions with
the forms of fancy, so it describes the feelings of pleasure or pain,
by blending them with the strongest movements of passion, and the most
striking forms of nature. Tragic poetry, which is the most impassioned
species of it, strives to carry on the feeling to the utmost point of
sublimity or pathos, by all the force of comparison or contrast: loses
the sense of present suffering in the imaginary exaggeration of it:
exhausts the terror or pity by an unlimited indulgence of it: grapples
with impossibilities in its desperate impatience of restraint: throws
us back upon the past, forward into the future: brings every moment
of our being or object of nature in startling review before us: and
in the rapid whirl of events, lifts us from the depths of woe to the
highest contemplations on human life. When Lear says of Edgar, "Nothing
but his unkind daughters could have brought him to this", what a
bewildered amazement, what a wrench of the imagination, that cannot
be brought to conceive of any other cause of misery than that which
has bowed it down, and absorbs all other sorrow in its own! His sorrow,
like a flood, supplies the sources of all other sorrow. Again, when
he exclaims in the mad scene, "The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanche,
and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me!" it is passion lending occasion
to imagination to make every creature in league against him, conjuring
up ingratitude and insult in their least looked-for and most galling
shapes, searching every thread and fibre of his heart, and finding out
the last remaining image of respect or attachment in the bottom of his
breast, only to torture and kill it! In like manner, the "So I am" of
Cordelia gushes from her heart like a torrent of tears, relieving it
of a weight of love and of supposed ingratitude, which had pressed
upon it for years. What a fine return of the passion upon itself is
that in Othello--with what a mingled agony of regret and despair he
clings to the last traces of departed happiness, when he exclaims:

                  ---O now, for ever,
  Farewell the tranquil mind: farewell content!
  Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars,
  That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!
  Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
  The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
  The royal banner; and all quality,
  Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
  And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
  Th' immortal Jove's dread clamours counterfeit,
  Farewell! Othello's occupation's gone!

How his passion lashes itself up and swells and rages like a tide in
its sounding course, when, in answer to the doubts expressed of his
returning love, he says:

  Never, Iago. Like to the Pontic sea,
  Whose icy current and compulsive course
  Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
  To the Propontic and the Hellespont:
  Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace,
  Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love,
  Till that a capable and wide revenge
  Swallow them up.

The climax of his expostulation afterwards with Desdemona is at that

  But there where I have garner'd up my heart ...
  To be discarded thence!

One mode in which the dramatic exhibition of passion excites our
sympathy without raising our disgust is that, in proportion as it
sharpens the edge of calamity and disappointment, it strengthens the
desire of good. It enhances our consciousness of the blessing, by
making us sensible of the magnitude of the loss. The storm of passion
lays bare and shows us the rich depths of the human soul: the whole
of our existence, the sum total of our passions and pursuits, of that
which we desire and that which we dread, is brought before us by
contrast; the action and reaction are equal; the keenness of immediate
suffering only gives us a more intense aspiration after, and a more
intimate participation with the antagonist world of good: makes us
drink deeper of the cup of human life: tugs at the heart-strings:
loosens the pressure about them, and calls the springs of thought and
feeling into play with tenfold force.

Impassioned poetry is an emanation of the moral and intellectual part
of our nature, as well as of the sensitive--of the desire to know, the
will to act, and the power to feel; and ought to appeal to these
different parts of our constitution, in order to be perfect. The
domestic or prose tragedy, which is thought to be the most natural,
is in this sense the least so, because it appeals almost exclusively
to one of these faculties, our sensibility. The tragedies of Moore and
Lillo, [Footnote: For instance, _The Gamester_ and _George Barnwell_
They are to be found respectively in vols. xiv. and xi. of the _British
Theatre_.] for this reason, however affecting at the time, oppress and
lie like a dead weight upon the mind, a load of misery which it is
unable to throw off; the tragedy of Shakespeare, which is true poetry,
stirs our inmost affections; abstracts evil from itself by combining
it with all the forms of imagination, and with the deepest workings
of the heart; and rouses the whole man within us.

The pleasure, however, derived from tragic poetry is not anything
peculiar to it as poetry, as a fictitious and fanciful thing. It is
not an anomaly of the imagination. It has its source and ground-work
in the common love of strong excitement. As Mr. Burke observes, people
flock to see a tragedy; but if there were a public execution in the
next street, the theatre would very soon be empty. It is not then the
difference between fiction and reality that solves the difficulty.
Children are satisfied with the stories of ghosts and witches in plain
prose: nor do the hawkers of full, true, and particular accounts of
murders and executions about the streets find it necessary to have
them turned into penny ballads, before they can dispose of these
interesting and authentic documents. The grave politician drives a
thriving trade of abuse and calumnies poured out against those whom
he makes his enemies for no other end than that he may live by them.
The popular preacher makes less frequent mention of Heaven than of
hell. Oaths and nicknames are only a more vulgar sort of poetry or
rhetoric. We are as fond of indulging our violent passions as of reading
a description of those of others. We are as prone to make a torment
of our fears, as to luxuriate in our hopes of good. If it be asked,
Why we do so, the best answer will be, Because we cannot help it. The
sense of power is as strong a principle in the mind as the love of
pleasure. Objects of terror and pity exercise the same despotic control
over it as those of love or beauty. It is as natural to hate as to
love, to despise as to admire, to express our hatred or contempt, as
our love or admiration:

  Masterless passion sways us to the mood
  Of what it likes or loathes.

Not that we like what we loathe: but we like to indulge our hatred and
scorn of it, to dwell upon it, to exasperate our idea of it by every
refinement of ingenuity and extravagance of illustration, to make it
a bugbear to ourselves, to point it out to others in all the splendour
of deformity, to embody it to the senses, to stigmatize it by name,
to grapple with it in thought--in action, to sharpen our intellect,
to arm our will against it, to know the worst we have to contend with,
and to contend with it to the utmost. Poetry is only the highest
eloquence of passion, the most vivid form of expression that can be
given to our conception of anything, whether pleasurable or painful,
mean or dignified, delightful or distressing. It is the perfect
coincidence of the image and the words with the feeling we have, and
of which we cannot get rid in any other way, that gives an instant
"satisfaction to the thought". This is equally the origin of wit and
fancy, of comedy and tragedy, of the sublime and pathetic. When Pope
says of the Lord Mayor's show--

  Now night descending, the proud scene is o'er,
  But lives in Settle's numbers one day more!

when Collins makes Danger, "with limbs of giant mould".

       ----Throw him on the steep
  Of some loose hanging rock asleep:

when Lear calls out in extreme anguish--

  Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
  More hideous, when thou shew'st thee in a child,
  Than the sea-monster!

the passion of contempt in the one case, of terror in the other, and
of indignation in the last, is perfectly satisfied. We see the thing
ourselves, and show it to others as we feel it to exist, and as, in
spite of ourselves, we are compelled to think of it. The imagination,
by thus embodying and turning them to shape, gives an obvious relief
to the indistinct and importunate cravings of the will. We do not wish
the thing to be so; but we wish it to appear such as it is. For
knowledge is conscious power; and the mind is no longer in this case
the dupe, though it may be the victim, of vice or folly.

Poetry is in all its shapes the language of the imagination and the
passions, of fancy and will. Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd
than the outcry which has been sometimes raised by frigid and pedantic
critics for reducing the language of poetry to the standard of common
sense and reason; for the end and use of poetry, "both at the first
and now, was and is to hold the mirror up to nature", seen through the
medium of passion and imagination, not divested of that medium by means
of literal truth or abstract reason. The painter of history might as
well be required to represent the face of a person who has just trod
upon a serpent with the still-life expression of a common portrait,
as the poet to describe the most striking and vivid impressions which
things can be supposed to make upon the mind, in the language of common
conversation. Let who will strip nature of the colours and the shapes
of fancy, the poet is not bound to do so; the impressions of common
sense and strong imagination, that is, of passion and indifference,
cannot be the same, and they must have a separate language to do justice
to either. Objects must strike differently upon the mind, independently
of what they are in themselves, as long as we have a different interest
in them, as we see them in a different point of view, nearer or at a
greater distance (morally or physically speaking) from novelty, from
old acquaintance, from our ignorance of them, from our fear of their
consequences, from contrast, from unexpected likeness. We can no more
take away the faculty of the imagination, than we can see all objects
without light or shade. Some things must dazzle us by their
preternatural light; others must hold us in suspense, and tempt our
curiosity to explore their obscurity. Those who would dispel these
various illusions, to give us their drab-coloured creation in their
stead, are not very wise. Let the naturalist, if he will, catch the
glow-worm, carry it home with him in a box, and find it next morning
nothing but a little gray worm: let the poet or the lover of poetry
visit it at evening, when beneath the scented hawthorn and the crescent
moon it has built itself a palace of emerald light. This is also one
part of nature, one appearance which the glow-worm presents, and that
not the least interesting; so poetry is one part of the history of the
human mind, though it is neither science nor philosophy. It cannot be
concealed, however, that the progress of knowledge and refinement has
a tendency to circumscribe the limits of the imagination, and to clip
the wings of poetry. The province of the imagination is principally
visionary, the unknown and undefined: the understanding restores things
to their natural boundaries, and strips them of their fanciful
pretensions. Hence the history of religious and poetical enthusiasm
is much the same; and both have received a sensible shock from the
progress of experimental philosophy. It is the undefined and uncommon
that gives birth and scope to the imagination; we can only fancy what
we do not know. As in looking into the mazes of a tangled wood we fill
them with what shapes we please--with ravenous beasts, with caverns
vast, and drear enchantments--so in our ignorance of the world about
us, we make gods or devils of the first object we see, and set no
bounds to the wilful suggestions of our hopes and fears:

  And visions, as poetic eyes avow,
  Hang on each leaf and cling to every bough.

There can never be another Jacob's Dream. Since that time, the heavens
have gone farther off, and grown astronomical. They have become averse
to the imagination; nor will they return to us on the squares of the
distances, or on Doctor Chalmers's Discourses. Rembrandt's picture
brings the matter nearer to us. It is not only the progress of
mechanical knowledge, but the necessary advances of civilization, that
are unfavourable to the spirit of poetry. We not only stand in less
awe of the preternatural world, but we can calculate more surely, and
look with more indifference, upon the regular routine of this. The
heroes of the fabulous ages rid the world of monsters and giants. At
present we are less exposed to the vicissitudes of good or evil, to
the incursions of wild beasts or "bandit fierce", or to the unmitigated
fury of the elements. The time has been that "our fell of hair would
at a dismal treatise rouse, and stir as life were in it". But the
police spoils all; and we now hardly so much as dream of a midnight
murder. _Macbeth_ is only tolerated in this country for the sake of
the music; and in the United States of America, where the philosophical
principles of government are carried still further in theory and
practice, we find that the _Beggar's Opera_ is hooted from the stage.
Society, by degrees, is constructed into a machine that carries us
safely and insipidly from one end of life to the other, in a very
comfortable prose style:

  Obscurity her curtain round them drew,
  And siren Sloth a dull quietus sung.

The remarks which have been here made, would, in some measure, lead
to a solution of the question of the comparative merits of painting
and poetry. I do not mean to give any preference, but it should seem
that the argument which has been sometimes set up, that painting must
affect the imagination more strongly, because it represents the image
more distinctly, is not well founded. We may assume without much
temerity that poetry is more poetical than painting. When artists or
connoisseurs talk on stilts about the poetry of painting, they show
that they know little about poetry, and have little love for the art.
Painting gives the object itself; poetry what it implies. Painting
embodies what a thing contains in itself; poetry suggests what exists
out of it, in any manner connected with it. But this last is the proper
province of the imagination. Again, as it relates to passion, painting
gives the event, poetry the progress of events; but it is during the
progress, in the interval of expectation and suspense, while our hopes
and fears are strained to the highest pitch of breathless agony, that
the pinch of the interest lies:

  Between the acting of a dreadful thing
  And the first motion, all the interim is
  Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream
  The mortal instruments are then in council;
  And the state of man, like to a little kingdom,
  Suffers then the nature of an insurrection.

But by the time that the picture is painted, all is over. Faces are
the best part of a picture; but even faces are not what we chiefly
remember in what interests us most. But it may be asked then, Is there
anything better than Claude Lorraine's landscapes, than Titian's
portraits, than Raphael's cartoons, or the Greek statues? Of the two
first I shall say nothing, as they are evidently picturesque rather
than imaginative. Raphael's cartoons are certainly the finest comments
that ever were made on the Scriptures. Would their effect be the same
if we were not acquainted with the text? But the New Testament existed
before the cartoons. There is one subject of which there is no cartoon:
Christ washing the feet of the disciples the night before His death.
But that chapter does not need a commentary. It is for want of some
such resting-place for the imagination that the Greek statues are
little else than specious forms. They are marble to the touch and to
the heart. They have not an informing principle within them. In their
faultless excellence they appear sufficient to themselves. By their
beauty they are raised above the frailties of passion or suffering.
By their beauty they are deified. But they are not objects of religious
faith to us, and their forms are a reproach to common humanity. They
seem to have no sympathy with us, and not to want our admiration.

Poetry in its matter and form is natural imagery or feeling, combined
with passion and fancy. In its mode of conveyance, it combines the
ordinary use of language with musical expression. There is a question
of long standing in what the essence of poetry consists, or what it
is that determines why one set of ideas should be expressed in prose,
another in verse. Milton has told us his idea of poetry in a single

  Thoughts that voluntary move
  Harmonious numbers.

As there are certain sounds that excite certain movements, and the
song and dance go together, so there are, no doubt, certain thoughts
that lead to certain tones of voice, or modulations of sound, and
change "the words of Mercury into the songs of Apollo". There is a
striking instance of this adaptation of the movement of sound and
rhythm to the subject, in Spenser's description of the Satyrs
accompanying Una to the cave of Sylvanus:

    So from the ground she fearless doth arise,
    And walketh forth without suspect of crime.
    They, all as glad as birds of joyous prime,
    Thence lead her forth, about her dancing round,
    Shouting and singing all a shepherd's rhyme;
    And with green branches strewing all the ground,
  Do worship her as queen with olive garland crown'd.
    And all the way their merry pipes they sound,
    That all the woods and doubled echoes ring;
    And with their horned feet do wear the ground,
    Leaping like wanton kids in pleasant spring;
    So towards old Sylvanus they her bring,
    Who with the noise awaked, cometh out.

On the contrary, there is nothing either musical or natural in the
ordinary construction of language. It is a thing altogether arbitrary
and conventional. Neither in the sounds themselves, which are the
voluntary signs of certain ideas, nor in their grammatical arrangements
in common speech, is there any principle of natural imitation, or
correspondence to the individual ideas or to the tone of feeling with
which they are conveyed to others. The jerks, the breaks, the
inequalities and harshnesses of prose are fatal to the flow of a
poetical imagination, as a jolting road or a stumbling horse disturbs
the reverie of an absent man. But poetry "makes these odds all even".
It is the music of language, answering to the music of the mind,
untying, as it were, "the secret soul of harmony". Wherever any object
takes such a hold of the mind as to make us dwell upon it, and brood
over it, melting the heart in tenderness, or kindling it to a sentiment
of enthusiasm; wherever a movement of imagination or passion is
impressed on the mind, by which it seeks to prolong and repeat the
emotion, to bring all other objects into accord with it, and to give
the same movement of harmony, sustained and continuous, or gradually
varied, according to the occasion, to the sounds that express it--this
is poetry. The musical in sound is the sustained and continuous; the
musical in thought is the sustained and continuous also. There is a
near connection between music and deep-rooted passion. Mad people sing.
As often as articulation passes naturally into intonation, there poetry
begins. Where one idea gives a tone and colour to others, where one
feeling melts others into it, there can be no reason why the same
principle should not be extended to the sounds by which the voice
utters these emotions of the soul, and blends syllables and lines into
each other. It is to supply the inherent defect of harmony in the
customary mechanism of language, to make the sound an echo to the
sense, when the sense becomes a sort of echo to itself--to mingle the
tide of verse, "the golden cadences of poetry", with the tide of
feeling, flowing and murmuring as it flows--in short, to take the
language of the imagination from off the ground, and enable it to
spread its wings where it may indulge its own impulses:

  Sailing with supreme dominion
  Through the azure deep of air--

without being stopped, or fretted, or diverted with the abruptnesses
and petty obstacles, and discordant flats and sharps of prose, that
poetry was invented. It is to common language what springs are to a
carriage, or wings to feet. In ordinary speech we arrive at a certain
harmony by the modulations of the voice: in poetry the same thing is
done systematically by a regular collocation of syllables. It has been
well observed, that every one who declaims warmly, or grows intent
upon a subject, rises into a sort of blank verse or measured prose.
The merchant, as described in Chaucer, went on his way "sounding always
the increase of his winning". Every prose writer has more or less of
rhythmical adaptation, except poets who, when deprived of the regular
mechanism of verse, seem to have no principle of modulation left in
their writings.

An excuse might be made for rhyme in the same manner. It is but fair
that the ear should linger on the sounds that delight it, or avail
itself of the same brilliant coincidence and unexpected recurrence of
syllables, that have been displayed in the invention and collocation
of images. It is allowed that rhyme assists the memory; and a man of
wit and shrewdness has been heard to say, that the only four good lines
of poetry are the well-known ones which tell the number of days in the
months of the year:

    Thirty days hath September, &c.

But if the jingle of names assists the memory, may it not also quicken
the fancy? and there are other things worth having at our fingers'
ends, besides the contents of the almanac. Pope's versification is
tiresome from its excessive sweetness and uniformity. Shakespeare's
blank verse is the perfection of dramatic dialogue.

All is not poetry that passes for such: nor does verse make the whole
difference between poetry and prose. The _Iliad_ does not cease to be
poetry in a literal translation; and Addison's _Campaign_ has been
very properly denominated a Gazette in rhyme. Common prose differs
from poetry, as treating for the most part either of such trite,
familiar, and irksome matters of fact, as convey no extraordinary
impulse to the imagination, or else of such difficult and laborious
processes of the understanding, as do not admit of the wayward or
violent movements either of the imagination or the passions.

I will mention three works which come as near to poetry as possible
without absolutely being so; namely, the _Pilgrim's Progress_, _Robinson
Crusoe_, and the Tales of Boccaccio. Chaucer and Dryden have translated
some of the last into English rhyme, but the essence and the power of
poetry was there before. That which lifts the spirit above the earth,
which draws the soul out of itself with indescribable longings, is
poetry in kind, and generally fit to become so in name, by being
"married to immortal verse". If it is of the essence of poetry to
strike and fix the imagination, whether we will or no, to make the eye
of childhood glisten with the starting tear, to be never thought of
afterwards with indifference, John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe may be
permitted to pass for poets in their way. The mixture of fancy and
reality in the _Pilgrim's Progress_ was never equalled in any allegory.
His pilgrims walk above the earth, and yet are on it. What zeal, what
beauty, what truth of fiction! What deep feeling in the description
of Christian's swimming across the water at last, and in the picture
of the Shining Ones within the gates, with wings at their backs and
garlands on their heads, who are to wipe all tears from his eyes! The
writer's genius, though not "dipped in dews of Castalie", was baptized
with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The prints in this book are no
small part of it. If the confinement of Philoctetes in the island of
Lemnos was a subject for the most beautiful of all the Greek tragedies,
what shall we say to Robinson Crusoe in his? Take the speech of the
Greek hero on leaving his cave, beautiful as it is, and compare it
with the reflections of the English adventurer in his solitary place
of confinement. The thoughts of home, and of all from which he is for
ever cut off, swell and press against his bosom, as the heaving ocean
rolls its ceaseless tide against the rocky shore, and the very beatings
of his heart become audible in the eternal silence that surrounds him.
Thus he says:

As I walked about, either in my hunting, or for viewing the country,
the anguish of my soul at my condition would break out upon me on a
sudden, and my very heart would die within me to think of the woods,
the mountains, and deserts I was in; and how I was a prisoner, locked
up with the eternal bars and bolts of the ocean, in an uninhabited
wilderness, without redemption. In the midst of the greatest composures
of my mind, this would break out upon me like a storm, and make me
wring my hands, and weep like a child. Sometimes it would take me in
the middle of my work, and I would immediately sit down and sigh, and
look upon the ground for an hour or two together, and this was still
worse to me, for if I could burst into tears or vent myself in words,
it would go off, and the grief having exhausted itself would abate.

The story of his adventures would not make a poem like the _Odyssey_,
it is true; but the relater had the true genius of a poet. It has been
made a question whether Richardson's romances are poetry; and the
answer perhaps is, that they are not poetry, because they are not
romance. The interest is worked up to an inconceivable height; but it
is by an infinite number of little things, by incessant labour and
calls upon the attention, by a repetition of blows that have no rebound
in them. The sympathy excited is not a voluntary contribution, but a
tax. Nothing is unforced and spontaneous. There is a want of elasticity
and motion. The story does not "give an echo to the seat where love
is throned". The heart does not answer of itself like a chord in music.
The fancy does not run on before the writer with breathless expectation,
but is dragged along with an infinite number of pins and wheels, like
those with which the Liliputians dragged Gulliver pinioned to the royal
palace. Sir Charles Grandison is a coxcomb. What sort of a figure would
he cut, translated into an epic poem, by the side of Achilles? Clarissa,
the divine Clarissa, is too interesting by half. She is interesting
in her ruffles, in her gloves, her samplers, her aunts and uncles--she
is interesting in all that is uninteresting. Such things, however
intensely they may be brought home to us, are not conductors to the
imagination. There is infinite truth and feeling in Richardson; but
it is extracted from a _caput mortuum_ of circumstances: it does not
evaporate of itself. His poetical genius is like Ariel confined in a
pine-tree, and requires an artificial process to let it out. Shakespeare

  Our poesy is as a gum, which oozes
  From whence 'tis nourished... our gentle flame
  Provokes itself, and, like the current, flies
  Each bound it chafes.

I shall conclude this general account with some remarks on four of the
principal works of poetry in the world, at different periods of
history--Homer, the Bible, Dante, and, let me add, Ossian. In Homer,
the principle of action or life is predominant: in the Bible, the
principle of faith and the idea of Providence; Dante is a
personification of blind will; and in Ossian we see the decay of life
and the lag end of the world. Homer's poetry is the heroic: it is full
of life and action: it is bright as the day, strong as a river. In the
vigour of his intellect, he grapples with all the objects of nature,
and enters into all the relations of social life. He saw many countries,
and the manners of many men; and he has brought them all together in
his poem. He describes his heroes going to battle with a prodigality
of life, arising from an exuberance of animal spirits: we see them
before us, their number and their order of battle, poured out upon the
plain "all plumed like ostriches, like eagles newly bathed, wanton as
goats, wild as young bulls, youthful as May, and gorgeous as the sun
at midsummer", covered with glittering armour, with dust and blood;
while the gods quaff their nectar in golden cups, or mingle in the
fray; and the old men assembled on the walls of Troy rise up with
reverence as Helen passes by them. The multitude of things in Homer
is wonderful; their splendour, their truth, their force and variety.
His poetry is, like his religion, the poetry of number and form: he
describes the bodies as well as the souls of men.

The poetry of the Bible is that of imagination and of faith: it is
abstract and disembodied: it is not the poetry of form, but of power;
not of multitude, but of immensity. It does not divide into many, but
aggrandizes into one. Its ideas of nature are like its ideas of God.
It is not the poetry of social life, but of solitude: each man seems
alone in the world, with the original forms of nature, the rocks, the
earth, and the sky. It is not the poetry of action or heroic enterprise,
but of faith in a supreme Providence, and resignation to the power
that governs the universe. As the idea of God was removed farther from
humanity and a scattered polytheism, it became more profound and
intense, as it became more universal, for the Infinite is present to
everything: "If we fly into the uttermost parts of the earth, it is
there also; if we turn to the east or the west, we cannot escape from
it". Man is thus aggrandized in the image of his Maker. The history
of the patriarchs is of this kind; they are founders of a chosen race
of people, the inheritors of the earth; they exist in the generations
which are to come after them. Their poetry, like their religious creed,
is vast, unformed, obscure, and infinite; a vision is upon it; an
invisible hand is suspended over it. The spirit of the Christian
religion consists in the glory hereafter to be revealed; but in the
Hebrew dispensation Providence took an immediate share in the affairs
of this life. Jacob's dream arose out of this intimate communion between
heaven and earth: it was this that let down, in the sight of the
youthful patriarch, a golden ladder from the sky to the earth, with
angels ascending and descending upon it, and shed a light upon the
lonely place, which can never pass away. The story of Ruth, again, is
as if all the depth of natural affection in the human race was involved
in her breast. There are descriptions in the book of Job more prodigal
of imagery, more intense in passion, than anything in Homer; as that
of the state of his prosperity, and of the vision that came upon him
by night. The metaphors in the Old Testament are more boldly figurative.
Things were collected more into masses, and gave a greater _momentum_
to the imagination.

Dante was the father of modern poetry, and he may therefore claim a
place in this connection. His poem is the first great step from Gothic
darkness and barbarism; and the struggle of thought in it, to burst
the thraldom in which the human mind had been so long held, is felt
in every page. He stood bewildered, not appalled, on that dark shore
which separates the ancient and the modern world; and saw the glories
of antiquity dawning through the abyss of time, while revelation opened
its passage to the other world. He was lost in wonder at what had been
done before him, and he dared to emulate it. Dante seems to have been
indebted to the Bible for the gloomy tone of his mind, as well as for
the prophetic fury which exalts and kindles his poetry; but he is
utterly unlike Homer. His genius is not a sparkling flame, but the
sullen heat of a furnace. He is power, passion, self-will personified.
In all that relates to the descriptive or fanciful part of poetry, he
bears no comparison to many who had gone before, or who have come after
him; but there is a gloomy abstraction in his conceptions, which lies
like a dead weight upon the mind--a benumbing stupor, a breathless
awe, from the intensity of the impression--a terrible obscurity, like
that which oppresses us in dreams--an identity of interest, which
moulds every object to its own purposes, and clothes all things with
the passions and imaginations of the human soul--that make amends for
all other deficiencies. The immediate objects he presents to the mind
are not much in themselves; they want grandeur, beauty, and order; but
they become everything by the force of the character he impresses upon
them. His mind lends its own power to the objects which it contemplates,
instead of borrowing it from them. He takes advantage even of the
nakedness and dreary vacuity of his subject. His imagination peoples
the shades of death, and broods over the silent air. He is the severest
of all writers, the most hard and impenetrable, the most opposite to
the flowery and glittering; the writer who relies most on his own
power, and the sense of it in others, and who leaves most room to the
imagination of his readers. Dante's only endeavour is to interest; and
he interests by exciting our sympathy with the emotion by which he is
himself possessed. He does not place before us the objects by which
that emotion has been created; but he seizes on the attention, by
showing us the effect they produce on his feelings; and his poetry
accordingly gives the same thrilling and overwhelming sensation which
is caught by gazing on the face of a person who has seen some object
of horror. The improbability of the events, the abruptness and monotony
in the _Inferno_, are excessive: but the interest never flags, from
the continued earnestness of the author's mind. Dante's great power
is in combining internal feelings with external objects. Thus the gate
of hell, on which that withering inscription is written, seems to be
endowed with speech and consciousness, and to utter its dread warning,
not without a sense of mortal woes. This author habitually unites the
absolutely local and individual with the greatest wildness and
mysticism. In the midst of the obscure and shadowy regions of the lower
world, a tomb suddenly rises up with the inscription, "I am the tomb
of Pope Anastasius the Sixth": and half the personages whom he has
crowded into the _Inferno_ are his own acquaintance. All this, perhaps,
tends to heighten the effect by the bold intermixture of realities,
and by an appeal, as it were, to the individual knowledge and experience
of the reader. He affords few subjects for picture. There is, indeed,
one gigantic one, that of Count Ugolino, of which Michael Angelo made
a basrelief, and which Sir Joshua Reynolds ought not to have painted.

Another writer whom I shall mention last, and whom I cannot persuade
myself to think a mere modern in the groundwork, is Ossian. He is a
feeling and a name that can never be destroyed in the minds of his
readers. As Homer is the first vigour and lustihead, Ossian is the
decay and old age of poetry. He lives only in the recollection and
regret of the past. There is one impression which he conveys more
entirely than all other poets; namely, the sense of privation, the
loss of all things, of friends, of good name, of country; he is even
without God in the world. He converses only with the spirits of the
departed; with the motionless and silent clouds. The cold moonlight
sheds its faint lustre on his head; the fox peeps out of the ruined
tower; the thistle waves its beard to the wandering gale; and the
strings of his harp seem, as the hand of age, as the tale of other
times, passes over them, to sigh and rustle like the dry reeds in the
winter's wind! The feeling of cheerless desolation, of the loss of the
pith and sap of existence, of the annihilation of the substance, and
the clinging to the shadow of all things, as in a mock-embrace, is
here perfect. In this way, the lamentation of Selma for the loss of
Salgar is the finest of all. If it were indeed possible to show that
this writer was nothing, it would only be another instance of
mutability, another blank made, another void left in the heart, another
confirmation of that feeling which makes him so often complain, "Roll
on, ye dark brown years, ye bring no joy on your wing to Ossian!"




The essay on the _Artificial Comedy of the Last Century_ is one of the
_Essays of Elia_, published in the _London Magazine_ between 1820 and
1822. The paradox started by Lamb was taken up by Leigh Hunt in his
edition of the _Comic Dramatists of the Restoration_, and was attacked
by Macaulay in his well-known review of Hunt's work. It is
characteristic of Lamb to have bound up his defence of these writers
with an account of Kemble and other actors of the day. His peculiar
strength lay in his power of throwing himself into the very mood and
temper of the writers he admired, and no critic has more completely
possessed the secret of living over again the life of a literary
masterpiece. His genius was, in fact, akin to the genius of an actor,
an actor who, not for the moment but permanently, becomes the part
that he seeks to represent. And he was never so much at home as when
he was illustrating his own reading of a drama from the tones and
gestures of the stage. It may be doubted whether, under stress of this
impulse, he was not led to force the analogy between Sheridan and the
dramatists of the Restoration. The analogy doubtless exists, but in
his wish to bring home to his readers the inner meaning of plays, then
no longer acted, he was perhaps tempted to press a resemblance to
works, familiar to every play-goer, further than it could fairly be
made to go. The mistake, if mistake it were, is pardonable. And it
serves to illustrate the essential nature of Lamb's genius as a critic,
and of the new element that he brought into criticism. This was the
invincible belief that poetry is not merely an art for the few, but
something that finds an echo in the common instincts of all men,
something that, coming from the heart, naturally clothes itself in
fitting words and gives individual colour to each tone, gesture, and
expression. These, therefore, we must study if we would penetrate to
the open secret of the artist, if we would seize the vital spirit of
his utterance and make it our own. Lamb's sense of poetic form, his
instinct for subtle shades of difference, was far keener than Hazlitt's.
And for that very reason he may be said to have seen yet more clearly
than Hazlitt saw, how inseparable is the tie that binds poetry to life.
It is not only in its deeper undertones, Lamb seems to remind us, but
in its finest shades of voice and phrasing, that poetry is the echo
of some mood or temper of the soul. This is the vein that he opened,
and which, with wider scope and a touch still more delicate, has since
been explored by Mr. Pater.

The two shorter pieces speak for themselves. They are taken from the
_Specimens of English Dramatic Poets_ (1808).

The artificial comedy, or comedy of manners, is quite extinct on our
stage. Congreve and Farquhar show their heads once in seven years only,
to be exploded and put down instantly. The times cannot bear this. Is
it for a few wild speeches, an occasional licence of dialogue? I think
not altogether. The business of their dramatic characters will not
stand the moral test. We screw everything up to that. Idle gallantry
in a fiction, a dream, the passing pageant of an evening, startles us
in the same way as the alarming indications of profligacy in a son or
ward in real life should startle a parent or guardian. We have no such
middle emotions as dramatic interests left. We see a stage libertine
playing his loose pranks of two hours' duration, and of no after
consequence, with the severe eyes which inspect real vices with their
bearings upon two worlds. We are spectators to a plot or intrigue (not
reducible in life to the point of strict morality), and take it all
for truth. We substitute a real for a dramatic person, and judge him
accordingly. We try him in our courts, from which there is no appeal
to the _dramatis persona_, his peers. We have been spoiled with--not
sentimental comedy--but a tyrant far more pernicious to our pleasures
which has succeeded to it, the exclusive and all-devouring drama of
common life; where the moral point is everything; where, instead of
the fictitious half-believed personages of the stage (the phantoms of
old comedy), we recognize ourselves, our brothers, aunts, kinsfolk,
allies, patrons, enemies,--the same as in life,--with an interest in
what is going on so hearty and substantial, that we cannot afford our
moral judgment, in its deepest and most vital results, to compromise
or slumber for a moment. What is there transacting, by no modification
is made to affect us in any other manner than the same events or
characters would do in our relationships of life. We carry our fireside
concerns to the theatre with us. We do not go thither like our
ancestors, to escape from the pressure of reality, so much as to confirm
our experience of it; to make assurance double, and take a bond of
fate. We must live our toilsome lives twice over, as it was the mournful
privilege of Ulysses to descend twice to the shades. All that neutral
ground of character, which stood between vice and virtue; or which in
fact was indifferent to neither, where neither properly was called in
question; that happy breathing-place from the burthen of a perpetual
moral questioning--the sanctuary and quiet Alsatia of hunted
casuistry--is broken up and disfranchised, as injurious to the interests
of society. The privileges of the place are taken away by law. We dare
not dally with images, or names, of wrong. We bark like foolish dogs
at shadows. We dread infection from the scenic representation of
disorder, and fear a painted pustule. In our anxiety that our morality
should not take cold, we wrap it up in a great blanket surtout of
precaution against the breeze and sunshine.

I confess for myself that (with no great delinquencies to answer for)
I am glad for a season to take an airing beyond the diocese of the
strict conscience,--not to live always in the precincts of the law-
courts,--but now and then, for a dream-while or so, to imagine a world
with no meddling restrictions--to get into recesses, whither the hunter
cannot follow me--

                 Secret shades
  Of woody Ida's inmost grove,
  While yet there was no fear of Jove.

I come back to my cage and my restraint the fresher and more healthy
for it. I wear my shackles more contentedly for having respired the
breath of an imaginary freedom. I do not know how it is with others,
but I feel the better always for the perusal of one of Congreve's--
nay, why should I not add even of Wycherley's--comedies. I am the gayer
at least for it; and I could never connect those sports of a witty
fancy in any shape with any result to be drawn from them to imitation
in real life. They are a world of themselves almost as much as
fairy-land. Take one of their characters, male or female (with few
exceptions they are alike), and place it in a modern play, and my
virtuous indignation shall rise against the profligate wretch as warmly
as the Catos of the pit could desire; because in a modern play I am
to judge of the right and the wrong. The standard of police is the
measure of political justice. The atmosphere will blight it; it cannot
live here. It has got into a moral world, where it has no business,
from which it must needs fall headlong; as dizzy, and incapable of
making a stand, as a Sweden-borgian bad spirit that has wandered
unawares into the sphere of one of his Good Men, or Angels. But in its
own world do we feel the creature is so very bad?--The Fainalls and
the Mirabels, the Dorimants and the Lady Touchwoods, in their own
sphere, do not offend my moral sense; in fact, they do not appeal to
it at all. They seem engaged in their proper element. They break through
no laws or conscientious restraints. They know of none. They have got
out of Christendom into the land--what shall I call it?-of
cuckoldry--the Utopia of gallantry, where pleasure is duty, and the
manners perfect freedom. It is altogether a speculative scene of things,
which has no reference whatever to the world that is. No good person
can be justly offended as a spectator, because no good person suffers
on the stage. Judged morally, every character in these plays--the few
exceptions only are mistakes--is alike essentially vain and worthless.
The great art of Congreve is specially shown in this, that he has
entirely excluded from his scenes--some little generosities in the
part of Angelica [Footnote: In _Love for Love_] perhaps excepted--not
only anything like a faultless character, but any pretensions to
goodness or good feelings whatsoever. Whether he did this designedly,
or instinctively, the effect is as happy as the design (if design) was
bold. I used to wonder at the strange power which his _Way of the
World_ in particular possesses of interesting you all along in the
pursuits of characters, for whom you absolutely care nothing--for you
neither hate nor love his personages--and I think it is owing to this
very indifference for any, that you endure the whole. He has spread
a privation of moral light, I will call it, rather than by the ugly
name of palpable darkness, over his creations; and his shadows flit
before you without distinction or preference. Had he introduced a good
character, a single gush of moral feeling, a revulsion of the judgment
to actual life and actual duties, the impertinent Goshen would have
only lighted to the discovery of deformities, which now are none,
because we think them none.

Translated into real life, the characters of his, and his friend
Wycherley's dramas, are profligates and strumpets,--the business of
their brief existence, the undivided pursuit of lawless gallantry. No
other spring of action, or possible motive of conduct, is recognized;
principles which, universally acted upon, must reduce this frame of
things to a chaos. But we do them wrong in so translating them. No
such effects are produced, in their world. When we are among them, we
are amongst a chaotic people. We are not to judge them by our usages.
No reverend institutions are insulted by their proceedings--for they
have none among them. No peace of families is violated--for no family
ties exist among them. No purity of the marriage bed is stained--for
none is supposed to have a being. No deep affections are disquieted,
no holy wedlock bands are snapped asunder--for affection's depth and
wedded faith are not of the growth of that soil. There is neither right
nor wrong,--gratitude or its opposite,--claim or duty,--paternity or
sonship. Of what consequence is it to Virtue, or how is she at all
concerned about it, whether Sir Simon or Dapperwit steal away Miss
Martha; or who is the father of Lord Froth's or Sir Paul Pliant's

The whole is a passing pageant, where we should sit as unconcerned at
the issues, for life or death, as at the battle of the frogs and mice.
But, like Don Quixote, we take part against the puppets, and quite as
impertinently. We dare not contemplate an Atlantis, a scheme out of
which our coxcombical moral sense is for a little transitory ease
excluded. We have not the courage to imagine a state of things for
which there is neither reward nor punishment. We cling to the painful
necessities of shame and blame. We would indict our very dreams.

Amidst the mortifying circumstances attendant upon growing old, it is
something to have seen the _School for Scandal_ in its glory. This
comedy grew out of Congreve and Wycherley, but gathered some allays
of the sentimental comedy which followed theirs. It is impossible that
it should be now _acted_, though it continues, at long intervals, to
be announced in the bills. Its hero, when Palmer played it at least,
was Joseph Surface. When I remember the gay boldness, the graceful
solemn plausibility, the measured step, the insinuating voice--to
express it in a word--the downright _acted_ villany of the part, so
different from the pressure of conscious actual wickedness,--the
hypocritical assumption of hypocrisy,--which made Jack so deservedly
a favourite in that character, I must needs conclude the present
generation of playgoers more virtuous than myself, or more dense. I
freely confess that he divided the palm with me with his better brother;
that, in fact, I liked him quite as well. Not but there are
passages,--like that, for instance, where Joseph is made to refuse a
pittance to a poor relation,--incongruities which Sheridan was forced
upon by the attempt to join the artificial with the sentimental comedy,
either of which must destroy the other--but over these obstructions
Jack's manner floated him so lightly, that a refusal from him no more
shocked you, than the easy compliance of Charles gave you in reality
any pleasure; you got over the paltry question as quickly as you could,
to get back into the regions of pure comedy, where no cold moral reigns.
The highly artificial manner of Palmer in this character counteracted
every disagreeable impression which you might have received from the
contrast, supposing them real, between the two brothers. You did not
believe in Joseph with the same faith with which you believed in
Charles. The latter was a pleasant reality, the former a no less
pleasant poetical foil to it. The comedy, I have said, is incongruous;
a mixture of Congreve with sentimental incompatibilities; the gaiety
upon the whole is buoyant; but it required the consummate art of Palmer
to reconcile the discordant elements.

A player with Jack's talents, if we had one now, would not dare to do
the part in the same manner. He would instinctively avoid every turn
which might tend to unrealize, and so to make the character fascinating.
He must take his cue from his spectators, who would expect a bad man
and a good man as rigidly opposed to each other as the deathbeds of
those geniuses are contrasted in the prints, which I am sorry to say
have disappeared from the windows of my old friend Carrington Bowles,
of St. Paul's Churchyard memory--(an exhibition as venerable as the
adjacent cathedral, and almost coeval) of the bad and good man at the
hour of death; where the ghastly apprehensions of the former,--and
truly the grim phantom with his reality of a toasting-fork is not to
be despised,--so finely contrast with the meek complacent kissing of
the rod,--taking it in like honey and butter,--with which the latter
submits to the scythe of the gentle bleeder, Time, who wields his
lancet with the apprehensive finger of a popular young ladies' surgeon.
What flesh, like loving grass, would not covet to meet half-way the
stroke of such a delicate mower?

John Palmer was twice an actor in this exquisite part. He was playing
to you all the while that he was playing upon Sir Peter and his lady.
You had the first intimation of a sentiment before it was on his lips.
His altered voice was meant to you, and you were to suppose that his
fictitious co-flutterers on the stage perceived nothing at all of it.
What was it to you if that half reality, the husband, was overreached
by the puppetry--or the thin thing (Lady Teazle's reputation) was
persuaded it was dying of a plethory? The fortunes of Othello and
Desdemona were not concerned in it. Poor Jack has passed from the stage
in good time, that he did not live to this our age of seriousness. The
pleasant old Teazle _King_, too, is gone in good time. His manner would
scarce have passed current in our day. We must love or hate--acquit
or condemn--censure or pity--exert our detestable coxcombry of moral
judgment upon everything. Joseph Surface, to go down now, must be a
downright revolting villain--no compromise--his first appearance must
shock and give horror--his specious plausibilities, which the
pleasurable faculties of our fathers welcomed with such hearty
greetings, knowing that no harm (dramatic harm even) could come, or
was meant to come, of them, must inspire a cold and killing aversion.
Charles (the real canting person of the scene--for the hypocrisy of
Joseph has its ulterior legitimate ends, but his brother's professions
of a good heart centre in down right self-satisfaction) must be _loved_
and Joseph _hated_. To balance one disagreeable reality with another,
Sir Peter Teazle must be no longer the comic idea of a fretful old
bachelor bridegroom, whose teasings (while King acted it) were evidently
as much played off at you, as they were meant to concern anybody on
the stage,--he must be a real person, capable in law of sustaining an
injury--a person towards whom duties are to be acknowledged--the genuine
crim. con. antagonist of the villainous seducer Joseph. To realize him
more, his sufferings under his unfortunate match must have the downright
pungency of life--must (or should) make you not mirthful but
uncomfortable, just as the same predicament would move you in a
neighbour or old friend.

The delicious scenes which give the play its name and zest, must affect
you in the same serious manner as if you heard the reputation of a
dear female friend attacked in your real presence. Crabtree and Sir
Benjamin--those poor snakes that live but in the sunshine of your
mirth--must be ripened by this hot-bed process of realization into
asps or amphisbaenas; and Mrs. Candour--O! frightful!--become a hooded
serpent. Oh! who that remembers Parsons and Dodd--the wasp and butterfly
of the _School for Scandal_--in those two characters; and charming
natural Miss Pope, the perfect gentle woman as distinguished from the
fine lady of comedy, in the latter part--would forego the true scenic
delight--the escape from life--the oblivion of consequences--the holiday
barring out of the pedant Reflection--those Saturnalia of two or three
brief hours, well won from the world--to sit instead at one of our
modern plays--to have his coward conscience (that forsooth must not
be left for a moment) stimulated with perpetual appeals--dulled rather,
and blunted, as a faculty without repose must be--and his moral vanity
pampered with images of notional justice, notional beneficence, lives
saved without the spectator's risk, and fortunes given away that cost
the author nothing?

No piece was, perhaps, ever so completely cast in all its parts as
this _manager's comedy_. Miss Farren had succeeded to Mrs. Abington
in Lady Teazle; and Smith, the original Charles, had retired when I
first saw it. The rest of the characters, with very slight exceptions,
remained. I remember it was then the fashion to cry down John Kemble,
who took the part of Charles after Smith; but, I thought, very unjustly.
Smith, I fancy, was more airy, and took the eye with a certain gaiety
of person. He brought with him no sombre recollections of tragedy. He
had not to expiate the fault of having pleased beforehand in lofty
declamation. He had no sins of Hamlet or of Richard to atone for. His
failure in these parts was a passport to success in one of so opposite
a tendency. But, as far as I could judge, the weighty sense of Kemble
made up for more personal incapacity than he had to answer for. His
harshest tones in this part came steeped and dulcified in good-humour.
He made his defects a grace. His exact declamatory manner, as he managed
it, only served to convey the points of his dialogue with more
precision. It seemed to head the shafts to carry them deeper. Not one
of his sparkling sentences was lost. I remember minutely how he
delivered each in succession, and cannot by any effort imagine how any
of them could be altered for the better. No man could deliver brilliant
dialogue-the dialogue of Congreve or of Wycherley-because none
understood it-half so well as John Kemble. His Valentine, in _Love for
Love_, was, to my recollection, faultless. He flagged sometimes in the
intervals of tragic passion. He would slumber over the level parts of
an heroic character. His Macbeth has been known to nod. But he always
seemed to me to be particularly alive to pointed and witty dialogue.
The relaxing levities of tragedy have not been touched by any since
him--the playful court-bred spirit in which he condescended to the
players in Hamlet--the sportive relief which he threw into the darker
shades of Richard--disappeared with him. He had his sluggish moods,
his torpors--but they were the halting-stones and resting-place of his
tragedy--politic savings, and fetches of the breath--husbandry of the
lungs, where nature pointed him to be an economist--rather, I think,
than errors of the judgment. They were, at worst, less painful than
the eternal, tormenting, unappeasable vigilance,--the "lidless dragon
eyes", of present fashionable tragedy.


All the several parts of the dreadful apparatus with which the Duchess's
death is ushered in, are not more remote from the conceptions of
ordinary vengeance, than the strange character of suffering which they
seem to bring upon their victims is beyond the imagination of ordinary
poets. As they are not like inflictions _of this life_, so her language
seems _not of this world_. She has lived among horrors till she is
become "native and endowed unto that element". She speaks the dialect
of despair, her tongue has a snatch of Tartarus and the souls in
bale.--What are "Luke's iron crown", the brazen bull of Perillus,
Procrustes' bed, to the waxen images which counterfeit death, to the
wild masque of madmen, the tomb-maker, the bellman, the living person's
dirge, the mortification by degrees! To move a horror skilfully, to
touch a soul to the quick, to lay upon fear as much as it can bear,
to wean and weary a life till it is ready to drop, and then step in
with mortal instruments to take its last forfeit--this only a Webster
can do. Writers of an inferior genius may "upon horror's head horrors
accumulate", but they cannot do this. They mistake quantity for quality,
they "terrify babes with painted devils", but they know not how a soul
is capable of being moved; their terrors want dignity, their
affrightments are without decorum.


I do not know where to find in any play a catastrophe so grand, so
solemn, and so surprising as this. This is indeed, according to Milton,
to "describe high passions and high actions". The fortitude of the
Spartan boy who let a beast gnaw out his bowels till he died without
expressing a groan, is a faint bodily image of this dilaceration of
the spirit and exenteration of the inmost mind, which Calantha with
a holy violence against her nature keeps closely covered, till the
last duties of a wife and a queen are fulfilled. Stories of martyrdom
are but of chains and the stake; a little bodily suffering; these

  On the purest spirits prey
  As on entrails, joints, and limbs,
  With answerable pains, but more intense.

What a noble thing is the soul in its strengths and in its weaknesses!
who would be less weak than Calantha? who can be so strong? the
expression of this transcendent scene almost bears me in imagination
to Calvary and the Cross; and I seem to perceive some analogy between
the scenical sufferings which I am here contemplating, and the real
agonies of that final completion to which I dare no more than hint a

Ford was of the first order of poets. He sought for sublimity, not by
parcels in metaphors or visible images, but directly where she has her
full residence in the heart of man; in the actions and sufferings of
the greatest minds. There is a grandeur of the soul above mountains,
seas, and the elements. Even in the poor perverted reason of Giovanni
and Annabella (in the play which precedes this) we discern traces of
that fiery particle, which in the irregular starting out of the road
of beaten action, discovers something of a right line even in obliquity
and shows hints of an improvable greatness in the lowest descents and
degradations of our nature.




_The Defence of Poetry_ was written in the early months of 1821, the
year before Shelley's death. Its immediate occasion was an essay on
_The Four Ages of Poetry_ by T L Peacock. But all allusions to Peacock's
work were cut out by John Hunt when he prepared it--in vain, as things
proved--for publication in _The Liberal_, and it remains, as Peacock
said, "a defence without an attack". For all essential purposes, the
_Defence_ can only be said to have gained by shaking off its local and
temporary reference. It expresses Shelley's deepest thoughts about
poetry, and marks, as clearly as any writing of the last hundred years,
the width of the gulf that separates the ideals of recent poetry from
those of the century preceding the French Revolution. It may be compared
with Sidney's _Apologie_ on the one hand, and with Wordsworth's Preface
to the _Lyrical Ballads_, or the more abstract parts of Carlyle's
critical writings upon the other. The fundamental conceptions of Shelley
are the same as those of the Elizabethan critic and of his own great
contemporaries. But he differs from Sidney and Wordsworth, and perhaps
from Carlyle also, in laying more stress upon the outward form, and
particularly the musical element, of poetry, and from Sidney in laying
less stress upon its directly moral associations. He thus attains to
a wider and truer view of his subject, and, while insisting as strongly
as Wordsworth insists upon the kinship between the matter of poetry
and that of truth or science, he also recognizes, as Wordsworth commonly
did not, that there is a harmony between the imaginative conception
of that matter and its outward expression, and that beautiful thought
must necessarily clothe itself in beauty of language and of sound.
There is not in our literature any clearer presentment of the
inseparable connection between the matter and form of poetry, nor of
the ideal element which, under different shapes, is the life and soul
of both. [See Shelley's letters to Peacock and Other of February 15
and 22, and of March 20 and 21, 1821]

According to one mode of regarding those two classes of mental action,
which are called reason and imagination, the former may be considered
as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another,
however produced; and the latter, as mind acting upon those thoughts
so as to colour them with its own light, and composing from them, as
from elements, other thoughts, each containing within itself the
principle of its own integrity. The one is the [Greek transliterated:
to poiein], or the principle of synthesis, and has for its objects
those forms which are common to universal nature and existence itself;
the other is the [Greek transliterated: to logizein], or principle of
analysis, and its action regards the relations of things simply as
relations; considering thoughts, not in their integral unity, but as
the algebraical representations which conduct to certain general
results. Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known;
imagination is the perception of the value of those quantities, both
separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and
imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the
instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to
the substance.

Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be "the expression of
the imagination": and poetry is connate with the origin of man. Man
is an instrument over which a series of external and internal
impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind
over an Aolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing
melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps
within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and
produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of
the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite
them. It is as if the lyre could accommodate its chords to the motions
of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even
as the musician can accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre.
A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and
motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact
relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions
which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression;
and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away, so
the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration
of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In relation
to the objects which delight a child, these expressions are what poetry
is to higher objects. The savage (for the savage is to ages what the
child is to years) expresses the emotions produced in him by surrounding
objects in a similar manner; and language and gesture, together with
plastic or pictorial imitation, become the image of the combined effect
of those objects, and of his apprehension of them. Man in society,
with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of
the passions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions
produces an augmented treasure of expressions; and language, gesture,
and the imitative arts become at once the representation and the medium,
the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and
the harmony. The social sympathies, or those laws from which, as from
its elements, society results, begin to develop themselves from the
moment that two human beings coexist; the future is contained within
the present, as the plant within the seed: and equality, diversity,
unity, contrast, mutual dependence, become the principles alone capable
of affording the motives according to which the will of a social being
is determined to action, inasmuch as he is social; and constitute
pleasure in sensation, virtue in sentiment, beauty in art, truth in
reasoning, and love in the intercourse of kind. Hence men, even in the
infancy of society, observe a certain order in their words and actions,
distinct from that of the objects and the impressions represented by
them, all expression being subject to the laws of that from which it
proceeds. But let us dismiss those more general considerations which
might involve an inquiry into the principles of society itself, and
restrict our view to the manner in which the imagination is expressed
upon its forms.

In the youth of the world, men dance and sing and imitate natural
objects, observing in these actions, as in all others, a certain rhythm
or order. And, although all men observe a similar, they observe not
the same order, in the motions of the dance, in the melody of the song,
in the combinations of language, in the series of their imitations of
natural objects. For there is a certain order or rhythm belonging to
each of these classes of mimetic representation, from which the hearer
and the spectator receive an intenser and purer pleasure than from any
other: the sense of an approximation to this order has been called
taste by modern writers. Every man in the infancy of art observes an
order which approximates more or less closely to that from which this
highest delight results; but the diversity is not sufficiently marked,
as that its gradations should be sensible, except in those instances
where the predominance of this faculty of approximation to the beautiful
(for so we may be permitted to name the relation between this highest
pleasure and its cause) is very great. Those in whom it exists in
excess are poets, in the most universal sense of the word; and the
pleasure resulting from the manner in which they express the influence
of society or nature upon their own minds, communicates itself to
others, and gathers a sort of reduplication from that community. Their
language is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before
unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension,
until the words which represent them, become, through time, signs for
portions or classes of thoughts instead of pictures of integral
thoughts; and then, if no new poets should arise to create afresh the
associations which have been thus disorganized, language will be dead
to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse. These similitudes or
relations are finely said by Lord Bacon to be "the same footsteps of
nature impressed upon the various subjects of the world" [Footnote:
_De Augment. Scient._, cap. I, lib. iii.]--and he considers the faculty
which perceives them as the storehouse of axioms common to all
knowledge. In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a
poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to
apprehend the true and the beautiful; in a word, the good which exists
in the relation subsisting, first between existence and perception,
and secondly between perception and expression. Every original language
near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the
copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar are the
works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of the
creations of poetry.

But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order,
are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and
architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of
laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts
of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with
the beautiful and the true, that partial apprehension of the agencies
of the invisible world which is called religion. Hence all original
religions are allegorical, or susceptible of allegory, and, like Janus,
have a double face of false and true. Poets, according to the
circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called,
in the earlier epochs of the world, legislators, or prophets: a poet
essentially comprises and unites both these characters. For he not
only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those laws
according to which present things ought to be ordered, but he beholds
the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower
and the fruit of latest time. Not that I assert poets to be prophets
in the gross sense of the word, or that they can foretell the form as
surely as they foreknow the spirit of events: such is the pretence of
superstition, which would make poetry an attribute of prophecy rather
than prophecy an attribute of poetry. A poet participates in the
eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates to his
conceptions, time and place and number are not. The grammatical forms
which express the moods of time, and the difference of persons, and
the distinction of place, are convertible with respect to the highest
poetry without injuring it as poetry; and the choruses of Aschylus,
and the book of Job, and Dante's Paradise, would afford, more than any
other writings, examples of this fact, if the limits of this essay did
not forbid citation. The creations of sculpture, painting, and music
are illustrations still more decisive.

Language, colour, form, and religious and civil habits of action are
all the instruments and materials of poetry; they may be called poetry
by that figure of speech which considers the effect as a synonym of
the cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense expresses those
arrangements of language, and especially metrical language, which are
created by that imperial faculty, whose throne is curtained within the
invisible nature of man. And this springs from the nature itself of
language, which is a more direct representation of the actions and
passions of our internal being, and is susceptible of more various and
delicate combinations than colour, form, or motion, and is more plastic
and obedient to the control of that faculty of which it is the creation.
For language is arbitrarily produced by the imagination, and has
relation to thoughts alone; but all other materials, instruments, and
conditions of art have relations among each other, which limit and
interpose between conception and expression. The former is as a mirror
which reflects, the latter as a cloud which enfeebles, the light of
which both are mediums of communication. Hence the fame of sculptors,
painters, and musicians, although the intrinsic powers of the great
masters of these arts may yield in no degree to that of those who have
employed language as the hieroglyphic of their thoughts, has never
equalled that of poets in the restricted sense of the term; as two
performers of equal skill will produce unequal effects from a guitar
and a harp. The fame of legislators and founders of religions, so long
as their institutions last, alone seems to exceed that of poets in the
restricted sense; but it can scarcely be a question whether, if we
deduct the celebrity which their flattery of the gross opinions of the
vulgar usually conciliates, together with that which belonged to them
in their higher character of poets, any excess will remain.

We have thus circumscribed the word poetry within the limits of that
art which is the most familiar and the most perfect expression of the
faculty itself. It is necessary, however, to make the circle still
narrower, and to determine the distinction between measured and
unmeasured language; for the popular division into prose and verse is
inadmissible in accurate philosophy.

Sounds as well as thoughts have relation both between each other and
towards that which they represent, and a perception of the order of
those relations has always been found connected with a perception of
the order of the relations of thoughts. Hence the language of poets
has ever affected a certain uniform and harmonious recurrence of sound,
without which it were not poetry, and which is scarcely less
indispensable to the communication of its influence than the words
themselves, without reference to that peculiar order. Hence the vanity
of translation; it were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that
you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as
seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a
poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no
flower--and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel.

An observation of the regular mode of the recurrence of harmony in the
language of poetical minds, together with its relation to music,
produced metre, or a certain system of traditional forms of harmony
and language. Yet it is by no means essential that a poet should
accommodate his language to this traditional form, so that the harmony,
which is its spirit, be observed. The practice is indeed convenient
and popular, and to be preferred, especially in such composition as
includes much action: but every great poet must inevitably innovate
upon the example of his predecessors in the exact structure of his
peculiar versification. The distinction between poets and prose writers
is a vulgar error. The distinction between philosophers and poets has
been anticipated. Plato was essentially a poet--the truth and splendour
of his imagery, and the melody of his language, are the most intense
that it is possible to conceive. He rejected the measure of the epic,
dramatic, and lyrical forms, because he sought to kindle a harmony in
thoughts divested of shape and action, and he forbore to invent any
regular plan of rhythm which would include, under determinate forms,
the varied pauses of his style. Cicero sought to imitate the cadence
of his periods, but with little success. Lord Bacon was a poet.
[Footnote: See the Filum Labyrinthi, and the Essay on Death
particularly.] His language has a sweet and majestic rhythm, which
satisfies the sense, no less than the almost superhuman wisdom of his
philosophy satisfies the intellect; it is a strain which distends, and
then bursts the circumference of the reader's mind, and pours itself
forth together with it into the universal element with which it has
perpetual sympathy. All the authors of revolutions in opinion are not
only necessarily poets as they are inventors, nor even as their words
unveil the permanent analogy of things by images which participate in
the life of truth; but as their periods are harmonious and rhythmical,
and contain in themselves the elements of verse; being the echo of the
eternal music. Nor are those supreme poets, who have employed
traditional forms of rhythm on account of the form and action of their
subjects, less capable of perceiving and teaching the truth of things,
than those who have omitted that form. Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton
(to confine ourselves to modern writers) are philosophers of the very
loftiest power.

A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. There
is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a
catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time,
place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the creation of
actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing
in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other
minds. The one is partial, and applies only to a definite period of
time, and a certain combination of events which can never again recur;
the other is universal, and contains within itself the germ of a
relation to whatever motives or actions have place in the possible
varieties of human nature. Time, which destroys the beauty and the use
of the story of particular facts, stripped of the poetry which should
invest them, augments that of poetry, and for ever develops new and
wonderful applications of the eternal truth which it contains. Hence
epitomes have been called the moths of just history; they eat out the
poetry of it. A story of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures
and distorts that which should be beautiful: poetry is a mirror which
makes beautiful that which is distorted.

The parts of a composition may be poetical, without the composition
as a whole being a poem. A single sentence may be considered as a
whole, though it may be found in the midst of a series of unassimilated
portions; a single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable thought.
And thus all the great historians, Herodotus, Plutarch, Livy, were
poets; and although the plan of these writers, especially that of Livy,
restrained them from developing this faculty in its highest degree,
they made copious and ample amends for their subjection by filling all
the interstices of their subjects with living images.

Having determined what is poetry, and who are poets, let us proceed
to estimate its effects upon society.

Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure: all spirits on which it falls
open themselves to receive the wisdom which is mingled with its delight.
In the infancy of the world, neither poets themselves nor their auditors
are fully aware of the excellence of poetry: for it acts in a divine
and unapprehended manner, beyond and above consciousness; and it is
reserved for future generations to contemplate and measure the mighty
cause and effect in all the strength and splendour of their union.
Even in modern times, no living poet ever arrived at the fulness of
his fame; the jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as
he does to all time, must be composed of his peers: it must be
impanelled by Time from the selectest of the wise of many generations.
A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its
own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by
the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and
softened, yet know not whence or why. The poems of Homer and his
contemporaries were the delight of infant Greece; they were the elements
of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding
civilization has reposed. Homer embodied the ideal perfection of his
age in human character; nor can we doubt that those who read his verses
were awakened to an ambition of becoming like to Achilles, Hector, and
Ulysses: the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering
devotion to an object, were unveiled to the depths in these immortal
creations: the sentiments of the auditors must have been refined and
enlarged by a sympathy with such great and lovely impersonations, until
from admiring they imitated, and from imitation they identified
themselves with the objects of their admiration. Nor let it be objected
that these characters are remote from moral perfection, and that they
can by no means be considered as edifying patterns for general
imitation. Every epoch, under names more or less specious, has deified
its peculiar errors; Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a
semi-barbarous age; and Self-deceit is the veiled image of unknown
evil, before which luxury and satiety lie prostrate. But a poet
considers the vices of his contemporaries as the temporary dress in
which his creations must be arrayed, and which cover without concealing
the eternal proportions of their beauty. An epic or dramatic personage
is understood to wear them around his soul, as he may the ancient
armour or the modern uniform around his body; whilst it is easy to
conceive a dress more graceful than either. The beauty of the internal
nature cannot be so far concealed by its accidental vesture but that
the spirit of its form shall communicate itself to the very disguise,
and indicate the shape it hides from the manner in which it is worn.
A majestic form and graceful motions will express themselves through
the most barbarous and tasteless costume. Few poets of the highest
class have chosen to exhibit the beauty of their conceptions in its
naked truth and splendour; and it is doubtful whether the alloy of
costume, habit, &c., be not necessary to temper this planetary music
for mortal ears.

The whole objection, however, of the immorality of poetry rests upon
a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral
improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the elements which poetry
has created, and propounds schemes and proposes examples of civil and
domestic life: nor is it for want of admirable doctrines that men hate,
and despise, and censure, and deceive, and subjugate one another. But
poetry acts in another and diviner manner. It awakens and enlarges the
mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended
combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty
of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not
familiar; it reproduces all that it represents, and the impersonations
clothed in its Elysian light stand thenceforward in the minds of those
who have once contemplated them as memorials of that gentle and exalted
content which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which
it coexists. The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our
nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which
exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly
good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself
in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures
of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good
is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting
upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination
by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the
power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other
thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void for
ever craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the
organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise
strengthens a limb. A poet therefore would do ill to embody his own
conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his place
and time, in his poetical creations, which participate in neither. By
this assumption of the inferior office of interpreting the effect, in
which perhaps after all he might acquit himself but imperfectly, he
would resign a glory in a participation in the cause. There was little
danger that Homer, or any of the eternal poets, should have so far
misunderstood themselves as to have abdicated this throne of their
widest dominion. Those in whom the poetical faculty, though great, is
less intense, as Euripides, Lucan, Tasso, Spenser, have frequently
affected a moral aim, and the effect of their poetry is diminished in
exact proportion to the degree in which they compel us to advert to
this purpose.

Homer and the cyclic poets were followed at a certain interval by the
dramatic and lyrical poets of Athens, who flourished contemporaneously
with all that is most perfect in the kindred expressions of the poetical
faculty; architecture, painting, music, the dance, sculpture,
philosophy, and we may add, the forms of civil life. For although the
scheme of Athenian society was deformed by many imperfections which
the poetry existing in chivalry and Christianity has erased from the
habits and institutions of modern Europe; yet never at any other period
has so much energy, beauty, and virtue been developed; never was blind
strength and stubborn form so disciplined and rendered subject to the
will of man, or that will less repugnant to the dictates of the
beautiful and the true, as during the century which preceded the death
of Socrates. Of no other epoch in the history of our species have we
records and fragments stamped so visibly with the image of the divinity
in man. But it is poetry alone, in form, in action, or in language,
which has rendered this epoch memorable above all others, and the
storehouse of examples to everlasting time. For written poetry existed
at that epoch simultaneously with the other arts, and it is an idle
inquiry to demand which gave and which received the light, which all,
as from a common focus, have scattered over the darkest periods of
succeeding time. We know no more of cause and effect than a constant
conjunction of events: poetry is ever found to coexist with whatever
other arts contribute to the happiness and perfection of man. I appeal
to what has already been established to distinguish between the cause
and the effect.

It was at the period here adverted to that the drama had its birth;
and however a succeeding writer may have equalled or surpassed those
few great specimens of the Athenian drama which have been preserved
to us, it is indisputable that the art itself never was understood or
practised according to the true philosophy of it, as at Athens. For
the Athenians employed language, action, music, painting, the dance,
and religious institutions to produce a common effect in the
representation of the highest idealisms of passion and of power; each
division in the art was made perfect in its kind by artists of the
most consummate skill, and was disciplined into a beautiful proportion
and unity one towards the other. On the modern stage a few only of the
elements capable of expressing the image of the poet's conception are
employed at once. We have tragedy without music and dancing; and music
and dancing without the highest impersonations of which they are the
fit accompaniment, and both without religion and solemnity. Religious
institution has indeed been usually banished from the stage. Our system
of divesting the actor's face of a mask, on which the many expressions
appropriate to his dramatic character might be moulded into one
permanent and unchanging expression, is favourable only to a partial
and inharmonious effect; it is fit for nothing but a monologue, where
all the attention may be directed to some great master of ideal mimicry.
The modern practice of blending comedy with tragedy, though liable to
great abuse in point of practice, is undoubtedly an extension of the
dramatic circle; but the comedy should be, as in _King Lear_, universal,
ideal, and sublime. It is perhaps the intervention of this principle
which determines the balance in favour of _King Lear_ against the
_OEdipus Tyrannus_ or the _Agamemnon_, or, if you will, the trilogies
with which they are connected; unless the intense power of the choral
poetry, especially that of the latter, should be considered as restoring
the equilibrium. _King Lear_, if it can sustain this comparison, may
be judged to be the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing
in the world; in spite of the narrow conditions to which the poet was
subjected by the ignorance of the philosophy of the drama which has
prevailed in modern Europe. Calderon, in his religious _Autos_, has
attempted to fulfill some of the high conditions of dramatic
representation neglected by Shakespeare; such as the establishing a
relation between the drama and religion, and the accommodating them
to music and dancing; but he omits the observation of conditions still
more important, and more is lost than gained by the substitution of
the rigidly-defined and ever-repeated idealisms of a distorted
superstition for the living impersonations of the truth of human

But I digress.--The connection of scenic exhibitions with the
improvement or corruption of the manners of men has been universally
recognized; in other words, the presence or absence of poetry in its
most perfect and universal form has been found to be connected with
good and evil in conduct or habit. The corruption which has been imputed
to the drama as an effect, begins when the poetry employed in its
constitution ends: I appeal to the history of manners whether the
periods of the growth of the one and the decline of the other have not
corresponded with an exactness equal to any example of moral cause and

The drama at Athens, or wheresoever else it may have approached to its
perfection, ever coexisted with the moral and intellectual greatness
of the age. The tragedies of the Athenian poets are as mirrors in which
the spectator beholds himself, under a thin disguise of circumstance,
stript of all but that ideal perfection and energy which every one
feels to be the internal type of all that he loves, admires, and would
become. The imagination is enlarged by a sympathy with pains and
passions so mighty that they distend in their conception the capacity
of that by which they are conceived; the good affections are
strengthened by pity, indignation, terror, and sorrow; and an exalted
calm is prolonged from the satiety of this high exercise of them into
the tumult of familiar life: even crime is disarmed of half its horror
and all its contagion by being represented as the fatal consequence
of the unfathomable agencies of nature; error is thus divested of its
willfulness; men can no longer cherish it as the creation of their
choice. In a drama of the highest order there is little food for censure
or hatred; it teaches rather self-knowledge and self-respect. Neither
the eye nor the mind can see itself, unless reflected upon that which
it resembles. The drama, so long as it continues to express poetry,
is as a prismatic and many-sided mirror, which collects the brightest
rays of human nature and divides and reproduces them from the simplicity
of these elementary forms, and touches them with majesty and beauty,
and multiplies all that it reflects, and endows it with the power of
propagating its like wherever it may fall.

But in periods of the decay of social life, the drama sympathizes with
that decay. Tragedy becomes a cold imitation of the form of the great
masterpieces of antiquity, divested of all harmonious accompaniment
of the kindred arts; and often the very form misunderstood, or a weak
attempt to teach certain doctrines, which the writer considers as moral
truths; and which are usually no more than specious flatteries of some
gross vice or weakness with which the author, in common with his
auditors, are infected. Hence what has been called the classical and
domestic drama. Addison's _Cato_ is a specimen of the one; and would
it were not superfluous to cite examples of the other! To such purposes
poetry cannot be made subservient. Poetry is a sword of lightning,
ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it.
And thus we observe that all dramatic writings of this nature are
unimaginative in a singular degree; they affect sentiment and passion,
which, divested of imagination, are other names for caprice and
appetite. The period in our own history of the grossest degradation
of the drama is the reign of Charles II., when all forms in which
poetry had been accustomed to be expressed became hymns to the triumph
of kingly power over liberty and virtue. Milton stood alone illuminating
an age unworthy of him. At such periods the calculating principle
pervades all the forms of dramatic exhibition, and poetry ceases to
be expressed upon them. Comedy loses its ideal universality: wit
succeeds to humour; we laugh from self-complacency and triumph, instead
of pleasure; malignity, sarcasm, and contempt succeed to sympathetic
merriment; we hardly laugh, but we smile. Obscenity, which is ever
blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, becomes, from the very
veil which it assumes, more active if less disgusting: it is a monster
for which the corruption of society for ever brings forth new food,
which it devours in secret.

The drama being that form under which a greater number of modes of
expression of poetry are susceptible of being combined than any other,
the connection of poetry and social good is more observable in the
drama than in whatever other form. And it is indisputable that the
highest perfection of human society has ever corresponded with the
highest dramatic excellence; and that the corruption or the extinction
of the drama in a nation where it has once flourished, is a mark of
a corruption of manners, and an extinction of the energies which sustain
the soul of social life. But, as Machiavelli says of political
institutions, that life may be preserved and renewed, if men should
arise capable of bringing back the drama to its principles. And this
is true with respect to poetry in its most extended sense: all language,
institution and form, require not only to be produced, but to be
sustained: the office and character of a poet participates in the
divine nature as regards providence, no less than as regards creation.

Civil war, the spoils of Asia, and the fatal predominance, first of
the Macedonian, and then of the Roman arms, were so many symbols of
the extinction or suspension of the creative faculty in Greece. The
bucolic writers, who found patronage under the lettered tyrants of
Sicily and Egypt, were the latest representatives of its most glorious
reign. Their poetry is intensely melodious; like the odour of the
tuberose, it overcomes and sickens the spirit with excess of sweetness;
whilst the poetry of the preceding age was as a meadow-gale of June,
which mingles the fragrance of all the flowers of the field, and adds
a quickening and harmonizing spirit of its own which endows the sense
with a power of sustaining its extreme delight. The bucolic and erotic
delicacy in written poetry is correlative with that softness in
statuary, music, and the kindred arts, and even in manners and
institutions, which distinguished the epoch to which I now refer. Nor
is it the poetical faculty itself, or any misapplication of it, to
which this want of harmony is to be imputed. An equal sensibility to
the influence of the senses and the affections is to be found in the
writings of Homer and Sophocles: the former, especially, has clothed
sensual and pathetic images with irresistible attractions. Their
superiority over these succeeding writers consists in the presence of
those thoughts which belong to the inner faculties of our nature, not
in the absence of those which are connected with the external: their
incomparable perfection consists in a harmony of the union of all. It
is not what the erotic poets have, but what they have not, in which
their imperfection consists. It is not inasmuch as they were poets,
but inasmuch as they were not poets, that they can be considered with
any plausibility as connected with the corruption of their age. Had
that corruption availed so as to extinguish in them the sensibility
to pleasure, passion, and natural scenery, which is imputed to them
as an imperfection, the last triumph of evil would have been achieved.
For the end of social corruption is to destroy all sensibility to
pleasure; and, therefore, it is corruption. It begins at the imagination
and the intellect as at the core, and distributes itself thence as a
paralysing venom, through the affections into the very appetites, until
all become a torpid mass in which hardly sense survives. At the approach
of such a period, poetry ever addresses itself to those faculties which
are the last to be destroyed, and its voice is heard, like the footsteps
of Astraa, departing from the world. Poetry ever communicates all the
pleasure which men are capable of receiving: it is ever still the light
of life; the source of whatever of beautiful or generous or true can
have place in an evil time. It will readily be confessed that those
among the luxurious citizens of Syracuse and Alexandria, who were
delighted with the poems of Theocritus, were less cold, cruel, and
sensual than the remnant of their tribe. But corruption must utterly
have destroyed the fabric of human society before poetry can ever
cease. The sacred links of that chain have never been entirely
disjointed, which descending through the minds of many men is attached
to those great minds, whence as from a magnet the invisible effluence
is sent forth, which at once connects, animates, and sustains the life
of all. It is the faculty which contains within itself the seeds at
once of its own and of social renovation. And let us not circumscribe
the effects of the bucolic and erotic poetry within the limits of the
sensibility of those to whom it was addressed. They may have perceived
the beauty of those immortal compositions, simply as fragments and
isolated portions: those who are more finely organized, or, born in
a happier age, may recognize them as episodes to that great poem, which
all poets, like the co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have built
up since the beginning of the world.

The same revolutions within a narrower sphere had place in ancient
Rome; but the actions and forms of its social life never seem to have
been perfectly saturated with the poetical element. The Romans appear
to have considered the Greeks as the selectest treasuries of the
selectest forms of manners and of nature, and to have abstained from
creating in measured language, sculpture, music, or architecture
anything which might bear a particular relation to their own condition,
whilst it should bear a general one to the universal constitution of
the world. But we judge from partial evidence, and we judge perhaps
partially. Ennius, Varro, Pacuvius, and Accius, all great poets, have
been lost. Lucretius is in the highest, and Virgil in a very high
sense, a creator. The chosen delicacy of expressions of the latter are
as a mist of light which conceal from us the intense and exceeding
truth of his conceptions of nature. Livy is instinct with poetry. Yet
Horace, Catullus, Ovid, and generally the other great writers of the
Virgilian age, saw man and nature in the mirror of Greece. The
institutions also, and the religion of Rome, were less poetical than
those of Greece, as the shadow is less vivid than the substance. Hence
poetry in Rome seemed to follow, rather than accompany, the perfection
of political and domestic society. The true poetry of Rome lived in
its institutions; for whatever of beautiful, true, and majestic they
contained, could have sprung only from the faculty which creates the
order in which they consist. The life of Camillus, the death of Regulus;
the expectation of the senators, in their godlike state, of the
victorious Gauls; the refusal of the republic to make peace with
Hannibal after the battle of Cannae, were not the consequences of a
refined calculation of the probable personal advantage to result from
such a rhythm and order in the shows of life, to those who were at
once the poets and the actors of these immortal dramas. The imagination,
beholding the beauty of this order, created it out of itself according
to its own idea; the consequence was empire, and the reward ever-living
fame. These things are not the less poetry, _quia carent vate sacro_.
They are the episodes of that cyclic poem written by Time upon the
memories of men. The Past, like an inspired rhapsodist, fills the
theatre of everlasting generations with their harmony.

At length the ancient system of religion and manners had fulfilled the
circle of its revolutions. And the world would have fallen into utter
anarchy and darkness, but that there were found poets among the authors
of the Christian and chivalric systems of manners and religion, who
created forms of opinion and action never before conceived; which,
copied into the imaginations of men, became as generals to the
bewildered armies of their thoughts. It is foreign to the present
purpose to touch upon the evil produced by these systems: except that
we protest, on the ground of the principles already established, that
no portion of it can be attributed to the poetry they contain.

It is probable that the poetry of Moses, Job, David, Solomon, and
Isaiah had produced a great effect upon the mind of Jesus and his
disciples. The scattered fragments preserved to us by the biographers
of this extraordinary person are all instinct with the most vivid
poetry. But his doctrines seem to have been quickly distorted. At a
certain period after the prevalence of a system of opinions founded
upon those promulgated by him, the three forms into which Plato had
distributed the faculties of mind underwent a sort of apotheosis, and
became the object of the worship of the civilized world. Here it is
to be confessed that "Light seems to thicken", and

      "The crow makes wing to the rooky wood,
  Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
  And night's black agents to their preys do rouse".

But mark how beautiful an order has sprung from the dust and blood of
this fierce chaos! how the world, as from a resurrection, balancing
itself on the golden wings of knowledge and of hope, has reassumed its
yet unwearied flight into the heaven of time. Listen to the music,
unheard by outward ears, which is as a ceaseless and invisible wind,
nourishing its everlasting course with strength and swiftness.

The poetry in the doctrines of Jesus Christ, and the mythology and
institutions of the Celtic [Footnote: The confusion between Celtic and
Teutonic is constant in the writers of the eighteenth century and the
early part of this.] conquerors of the Roman empire, outlived the
darkness and the convulsions connected with their growth and victory,
and blended themselves in a new fabric of manners and opinion. It is
an error to impute the ignorance of the dark ages to the Christian
doctrines or the predominance of the Celtic nations. Whatever of evil
their agencies may have contained sprang from the extinction of the
poetical principle, connected with the progress of despotism and
superstition. Men, from causes too intricate to be here discussed, had
become insensible and selfish: their own will had become feeble, and
yet they were its slaves, and thence the slaves of the will of others:
lust, fear, avarice, cruelty, and fraud characterized a race amongst
whom no one was to be found capable of creating in form, language, or
institution. The moral anomalies of such a state of society are not
justly to be charged upon any class of events immediately connected
with them, and those events are most entitled to our approbation which
could dissolve it most expeditiously. It is unfortunate for those who
cannot distinguish words from thoughts, that many of these anomalies
have been incorporated into our popular religion.

It was not until the eleventh century that the effects of the poetry
of the Christian and chivalric systems began to manifest themselves.
The principle of equality had been discovered and applied by Plato in
his Republic, as the theoretical rule of the mode in which the materials
of pleasure and of power produced by the common skill and labour of
human beings ought to be distributed among them. The limitations of
this rule were asserted by him to be determined only by the sensibility
of each, or the utility to result to all. Plato, following the doctrines
of Timaeus and Pythagoras, taught also a moral and intellectual system
of doctrine, comprehending at once the past, the present, and the
future condition of man. Jesus Christ divulged the sacred and eternal
truths contained in these views to mankind, and Christianity, in its
abstract purity, became the exoteric expression of the esoteric
doctrines of the poetry and wisdom of antiquity. The incorporation of
the Celtic nations with the exhausted population of the south, impressed
upon it the figure of the poetry existing in their mythology and
institutions. The result was a sum of the action and reaction of all
the causes included in it; for it may be assumed as a maxim that no
nation or religion can supersede any other without incorporating into
itself a portion of that which it supersedes. The abolition of personal
and domestic slavery, and the emancipation of women from a great part
of the degrading restraints of antiquity, were among the consequences
of these events.

The abolition of personal slavery is the basis of the highest political
hope that it can enter into the mind of man to conceive. The freedom
of women produced the poetry of sexual love. Love became a religion,
the idols of whose worship were ever present. It was as if the statues
of Apollo and the Muses had been endowed with life and motion, and had
walked forth among their worshippers; so that earth became peopled by
the inhabitants of a diviner world. The familiar appearance and
proceedings of life became wonderful and heavenly, and a paradise was
created as out of the wrecks of Eden. And as this creation itself is
poetry, so its creators were poets; and language was the instrument
of their art: _Galeotto fu il libro, e chi lo scrisse_. The Provencal
Trouveurs, or inventors, preceded Petrarch, whose verses are as spells,
which unseal the inmost enchanted fountains of the delight which is
in the grief of love. It is impossible to feel them without becoming
a portion of that beauty which we contemplate: it were superfluous to
explain how the gentleness and the elevation of mind connected with
these sacred emotions can render men more amiable, more generous and
wise, and lift them out of the dull vapours of the little world of
self. Dante understood the secret things of love even more than
Petrarch. His _Vita Nuova_ is an inexhaustible fountain of purity of
sentiment and language: it is the idealized history of that period,
and those intervals of his life which were dedicated to love. His
apotheosis of Beatrice in Paradise, and the gradations of his own love
and her loveliness, by which as by steps he feigns himself to have
ascended to the throne of the Supreme Cause, is the most glorious
imagination of modern poetry. The acutest critics have justly reversed
the judgment of the vulgar, and the order of the great acts of the
_Divine Drama_, in the measure of the admiration which they accord to
the Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The latter is a perpetual hymn of
everlasting love. Love, which found a worthy poet in Plato alone of
all the ancients, has been celebrated by a chorus of the greatest
writers of the renovated world; and the music has penetrated the caverns
of society, and its echoes still drown the dissonance of arms and
superstition. At successive intervals, Ariosto, Tasso, Shakespeare,
Spenser, Calderon, Rousseau, and the great writers of our own age,
have celebrated the dominion of love, planting, as it were, trophies
in the human mind of that sublimest victory over sensuality and force.
The true relation borne to each other by the sexes into which human
kind is distributed has become less misunderstood; and if the error
which confounded diversity with inequality of the powers of the two
sexes has been partially recognized in the opinions and institutions
of modern Europe, we owe this great benefit to the worship of which
chivalry was the law, and poets the prophets.

The poetry of Dante may be considered as the bridge thrown over the
stream of time, which unites the modern and ancient world. The distorted
notions of invisible things which Dante and his rival Milton have
idealized are merely the mask and the mantle in which these great poets
walk through eternity enveloped and disguised. It is a difficult
question to determine how far they were conscious of the distinction
which must have subsisted in their minds between their own creeds and
that of the people. Dante at least appears to wish to mark the full
extent of it by placing Rhipaus, whom Virgil calls _justissimus unus_,
in Paradise, [Footnote: _Paradiso, xx_. 68.] and observing a most
heretical caprice in his distribution of rewards and punishments. And
Milton's poem contains within itself a philosophical refutation of
that system, of which, by a strange and natural antithesis, it has
been a chief popular support. Nothing can exceed the energy and
magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in _Paradise Lost_.
It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for
the popular personification of evil. Implacable hate, patient cunning,
and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremest anguish
on an enemy, these things are evil; and, although venial in a slave,
are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed by much that
ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that dishonours
his conquest in the victor. Milton's Devil as a moral being is as far
superior to his God as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has
conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is to one
who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible
revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him
to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of
exasperating him to deserve new torments. Milton has so far violated
the popular creed (if this shall be judged to be a violation) as to
have alleged no superiority of moral virtue to his God over his Devil.
And this bold neglect of a direct moral purpose is the most decisive
proof of the supremacy of Milton's genius. He mingled, as it were, the
elements of human nature as colours upon a single pallet, and arranged
them in the composition of his great picture according to the laws of
epic truth; that is, according to the laws of that principle by which
a series of actions of the external universe and of intelligent and
ethical beings is calculated to excite the sympathy of succeeding
generations of mankind. The _Divina Commedia_ and _Paradise Lost_ have
conferred upon modern mythology a systematic form; and when change and
time shall have added one more superstition to the mass of those which
have arisen and decayed upon the earth, commentators will be learnedly
employed in elucidating the religion of ancestral Europe, only not
utterly forgotten because it will have been stamped with the eternity
of genius.

Homer was the first and Dante the second epic poet: that is, the second
poet, the series of whose creations bore a defined and intelligible
relation to the knowledge and sentiment and religion of the age in
which he lived, and of the ages which followed it, developing itself
in correspondence with their development. For Lucretius had limed the
wings of his swift spirit in the dregs of the sensible world; and
Virgil, with a modesty that ill became his genius, had affected the
fame of an imitator, even whilst he created anew all that he copied;
and none among the flock of mock-birds, though their notes were sweet,
Apollonius Rhodius, Quintus Calaber, Nonnus, Lucan, Statius, or
Claudian, have sought even to fulfil a single condition of epic truth.
Milton was the third epic poet. For if the title of epic in its highest
sense be refused to the _Aneid_ still less can it be conceded to the
_Orlando Furioso_, the _Gerusalemme Liberata_, the _Lusiad, or the
_Fairy Queen_.

Dante and Milton were both deeply penetrated with the ancient religion
of the civilized world; and its spirit exists in their poetry probably
in the same proportion as its forms survived in the unreformed worship
of modern Europe. The one preceded and the other followed the
Reformation at almost equal intervals. Dante was the first religious
reformer, and Luther surpassed him rather in the rudeness and acrimony
than in the boldness of his censures of papal usurpation. Dante was
the first awakener of entranced Europe; he created a language, in
itself music and persuasion, out of a chaos of inharmonious barbarisms.
He was the congregator of those great spirits who presided over the
resurrection of learning; the Lucifer of that starry flock which in
the thirteenth century shone forth from republican Italy, as from a
heaven, into the darkness of the benighted world. His very words are
instinct with spirit; each is as a spark, a burning atom of
inextinguishable thought; and many yet lie covered in the ashes of
their birth, and pregnant with the lightning which has yet found no
conductor. All high poetry is infinite; it is as the first acorn, which
contained all oaks potentially. Veil after veil may be undrawn, and
the inmost naked beauty of the meaning never exposed. A great poem is
a fountain for ever overflowing with the waters of wisdom and delight;
and after one person and one age has exhausted all its divine effluence
which their peculiar relations enable them to share, another and yet
another succeeds, and new relations are ever developed, the source of
an unforeseen and an unconceived delight.

The age immediately succeeding to that of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio
was characterized by a revival of painting, sculpture, and architecture.
Chaucer caught the sacred inspiration, and the superstructure of English
literature is based upon the materials of Italian invention.

But let us not be betrayed from a defence into a critical history of
poetry and its influence on society. Be it enough to have pointed out
the effects of poets, in the large and true sense of the word, upon
their own and all succeeding times.

But poets have been challenged to resign the civic crown to reasoners
and mechanists on another plea. It is admitted that the exercise of
the imagination is most delightful, but it is alleged that that of
reason is more useful. Let us examine, as the grounds of this
distinction, what is here meant by utility. Pleasure or good, in a
general sense, is that which the consciousness of a sensitive and
intelligent being seeks, and in which, when found, it acquiesces. There
are two kinds of pleasure, one durable, universal, and permanent; the
other transitory and particular. Utility may either express the means
of producing the former or the latter. In the former sense, whatever
strengthens and purifies the affections, enlarges the imagination, and
adds spirit to sense, is useful. But a narrower meaning may be assigned
to the word utility, confining it to express that which banishes the
importunity of the wants of our animal nature, the surrounding men
with security of life, the dispersing the grosser delusions of
superstition, and the conciliating such a degree of mutual forbearance
among men as may consist with the motives of personal advantage.

Undoubtedly the promoters of utility, in this limited sense, have their
appointed office in society. They follow the footsteps of poets, and
copy the sketches of their creations into the book of common life.
They make space, and give time. Their exertions are of the highest
value, so long as they confine their administration of the concerns
of the inferior powers of our nature within the limits due to the
superior ones. But whilst the sceptic destroys gross superstitions,
let him spare to deface, as some of the French writers have defaced,
the eternal truths charactered upon the imaginations of men. Whilst
the mechanist abridges, and the political economist combines labour,
let them beware that their speculations, for want of correspondence
with those first principles which belong to the imagination, do not
tend, as they have in modern England, to exasperate at once the extremes
of luxury and want. They have exemplified the saying, "To him that
hath, more shall be given; and from him that hath not, the little that
he hath shall be taken away". The rich have become richer, and the
poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between
the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the effects
which must ever flow from an unmitigated exercise of the calculating

It is difficult to define pleasure in its highest sense; the definition
involving a number of apparent paradoxes. For, from an inexplicable
defect of harmony in the constitution of human nature, the pain of the
inferior is frequently connected with the pleasures of the superior
portions of our being. Sorrow, terror, anguish, despair itself, are
often the chosen expressions of an approximation to the highest good.
Our sympathy in tragic fiction depends on this principle; tragedy
delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain.
This is the source also of the melancholy which is inseparable from
the sweetest melody. The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than
the pleasure of pleasure itself. And hence the saying, "It is better
to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth". Not that
this highest species of pleasure is necessarily linked with pain. The
delight of love and friendship, the ecstasy of the admiration of nature,
the joy of the perception, and still more of the creation of poetry,
is often wholly unalloyed.

The production and assurance of pleasure in this highest sense is true
utility. Those who produce and preserve this pleasure are poets or
poetical philosophers.

The exertions of Locke, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau [Footnote:
Although Rousseau has been thus classed, he was essentially a poet.
The others, even Voltaire, were mere reasoners.], and their disciples,
in favour of oppressed and deluded humanity, are entitled to the
gratitude of mankind. Yet it is easy to calculate the degree of moral
and intellectual improvement which the world would have exhibited had
they never lived. A little more nonsense would have been talked for
a century or two; and perhaps a few more men, women, and children burnt
as heretics. We might not at this moment have been congratulating each
other on the abolition of the Inquisition in Spain. But it exceeds all
imagination to conceive what would have been the moral condition of
the world if neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare,
Calderon, Lord Bacon, nor Milton had ever existed; if Raphael and
Michael Angelo had never been born; if the Hebrew poetry had never
been translated; if a revival of the study of Greek literature had
never taken place; if no monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed
down to us; and if the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had
been extinguished together with its belief. The human mind could never,
except by the intervention of these excitements, have been awakened
to the invention of the grosser sciences, and that application of
analytical reasoning to the aberrations of society, which it is now
attempted to exalt over the direct expression of the inventive and
creative faculty itself.

We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom than we know how
to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical
knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the
produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems of thought
is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes.
There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best in
morals, government, and political economy, or, at least, what is wiser
and better than what men now practise and endure. But we let "_I dare
not_ wait upon _I would_, like the poor cat in the adage". We want the
creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous
impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life: our
calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can
digest. The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the
limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of
the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal
world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave.
To what but a cultivation of the mechanical arts in a degree
disproportioned to the presence of the creative faculty, which is the
basis of all knowledge, is to be attributed the abuse of all invention
for abridging and combining labour, to the exasperation of the
inequality of mankind? From what other cause has it arisen that the
discoveries which should have lightened have added a weight to the
curse imposed on Adam? Poetry, and the principle of Self, of which
money is the visible incarnation, are the God and Mammon of the world.

The functions of the poetical faculty are twofold: by one it creates
new materials of knowledge, and power, and pleasure; by the other it
engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them according
to a certain rhythm and order which may be called the beautiful and
the good. The cultivation of poetry is never more to be desired than
at periods when, from an excess of the selfish and calculating
principle, the accumulation of the materials of external life exceeds
the quantity of the power of assimilating them to the internal laws
of human nature. The body has then become too unwieldy for that which
animates it.

Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and
circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science,
and that to which all science must be referred. It is at the same time
the root and blossom of all other systems of thought; it is that from
which all spring, and that which adorns all; and that which, if
blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds from the barren
world the nourishment and the succession of the scions of the tree of
life. It is the perfect and consummate surface and bloom of all things;
it is as the odour and the colour of the rose to the texture of the
elements which compose it, as the form and splendour of unfaded beauty
to the secrets of anatomy and corruption. What were virtue, love,
patriotism, friendship--what were the scenery of this beautiful universe
which we inhabit; what were our consolations on this side of the
grave--and what were our aspirations beyond it, if poetry did not
ascend to bring light and fire from those eternal regions where the
owl-winged faculty of calculation dare not ever soar? Poetry is not
like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination
of the will. A man cannot say, "I will compose poetry". The greatest
poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal,
which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to
transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the colour
of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the
conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach
or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its original
purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the
results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the
decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated
to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions
of the poet. I appeal to the greatest poets of the present day whether
it is not an error to assert that the finest passages of poetry are
produced by labour and study. The toil and the delay recommended by
critics can be justly interpreted to mean no more than a careful
observation of the inspired moments, and an artificial connection of
the spaces between their suggestions by the intermixture of conventional
expressions; a necessity only imposed by the limitedness of the poetical
faculty itself: for Milton conceived the _Paradise Lost_ as a whole
before he executed it in portions. We have his own authority also for
the muse having "dictated" to him the "unpremeditated song". And let
this be an answer to those who would allege the fifty-six various
readings of the first line of the _Orlando Furioso_. Compositions so
produced are to poetry what mosaic is to painting. This instinct and
intuition of the poetical faculty is still more observable in the
plastic and pictorial arts; a great statue or picture grows under the
power of the artist as a child in the mother's womb; and the very mind
which directs the hands in formation is incapable of accounting to
itself for the origin, the gradations, or the media of the process.

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest
and best minds. We are aware of evanescent visitations of thought and
feeling sometimes associated with place or person, sometimes regarding
our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen and departing
unbidden, but elevating and delightful beyond all expression: so that
even in the desire and the regret they leave, there cannot but be
pleasure, participating as it does in the nature of its object. It is,
as it were, the interpenetration of a diviner nature through our own;
but its footsteps are like those of a wind over the sea, which the
coming calm erases, and whose traces remain only as on the wrinkled
sands which paves it. These and corresponding conditions of being are
experienced principally by those of the most delicate sensibility and
the most enlarged imagination; and the state of mind produced by them
is at war with every base desire. The enthusiasm of virtue, love,
patriotism, and friendship is essentially linked with such emotions;
and whilst they last, self appears as what it is, an atom to a universe.
Poets are not only subject to these experiences as spirits of the most
refined organization, but they can colour all that they combine with
the evanescent hues of this ethereal world; a word, a trait in the
representation of a scene or a passion will touch the enchanted chord,
and reanimate, in those who have ever experienced these emotions, the
sleeping, the cold, the buried image of the past. Poetry thus makes
immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world; it arrests
the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life, and
veiling them, or in language or in form, sends them forth among mankind,
bearing sweet news of kindred joy to those with whom their sisters
abide--abide, because there is no portal of expression from the caverns
of the spirit which they inhabit into the universe of things. Poetry
redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in man.

Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that
which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most
deformed; it marries exultation and horror, grief and pleasure, eternity
and change; it subdues to union under its light yoke all irreconcilable
things. It transmutes all that it touches, and every form moving within
the radiance of its presence is changed by wondrous sympathy to an
incarnation of the spirit which it breathes: its secret alchemy turns
to potable gold the poisonous waters which flow from death through
life; it strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare
the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.

All things exist as they are perceived: at least in relation to the
percipient. "The mind is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven
of hell, a hell of heaven." But poetry defeats the curse which binds
us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. And
whether it spreads its own figured curtain, or withdraws life's dark
veil from before the scene of things, it equally creates for us a being
within our being. It makes us the inhabitants of a world to which the
familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces the common universe of which
we are portions and percipients, and it purges from our inward sight
the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being.
It compels us to feel that which we perceive, and to imagine that which
we know. It creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated
in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration.
It justifies the bold and true words of Tasso _--Non merita nome di
creatore, se non Iddio ed il Poeta._

A poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure,
virtue, and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best,
the wisest, and the most illustrious of men. As to his glory, let time
be challenged to declare whether the fame of any other institutor of
human life be comparable to that of a poet. That he is the wisest, the
happiest, and the best, inasmuch as he is a poet, is equally
incontrovertible: the greatest poets have been men of the most spotless
virtue, of the most consummate prudence, and, if we would look into
the interior of their lives, the most fortunate of men: and the
exceptions, as they regard those who possessed the poetic faculty in
a high yet inferior degree, will be found on consideration to confine
rather than destroy the rule. Let us for a moment stoop to the
arbitration of popular breath, and usurping and uniting in our own
persons the incompatible characters of accuser, witness, judge, and
executioner, let us decide, without trial, testimony, or form, that
certain motives of those who are "there sitting where we dare not
soar", are reprehensible. Let us assume that Homer was a drunkard,
that Virgil was a flatterer, that Horace was a coward, that Tasso was
a madman, that Lord Bacon was a peculator, that Raphael was a libertine,
that Spenser was a poet-laureate. It is inconsistent with this division
of our subject to cite living poets, but posterity has done ample
justice to the great names now referred to. Their errors have been
weighed and found to have been dust in the balance; if their sins "were
as scarlet, they are now white as snow"; they have been washed in the
blood of the mediator and redeemer, Time. Observe in what a ludicrous
chaos the imputations of real or fictitious crime have been confused
in the contemporary calumnies against poetry and poets; consider how
little is, as it appears--or appears, as it is; look to your own
motives, and judge not, lest ye be judged.

Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from logic, that it
is not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind, and
that its birth and recurrence have no necessary connection with the
consciousness or will. It is presumptuous to determine that these are
the necessary conditions of all mental causation, when mental effects
are experienced unsusceptible of being referred to them. The frequent
recurrence of the poetical power, it is obvious to suppose, may produce
in the mind a habit of order and harmony correlative with its own
nature and with its effects upon other minds. But in the intervals of
inspiration, and they may be frequent without being durable, a poet
becomes a man, and is abandoned to the sudden reflux of the influences
under which others habitually live. But as he is more delicately
organized than other men, and sensible to pain and pleasure, both his
own and that of others, in a degree unknown to them, he will avoid the
one and pursue the other with an ardour proportioned to this difference.
And he renders himself obnoxious to calumny when he neglects to observe
the circumstances under which these objects of universal pursuit and
flight have disguised themselves in one another's garments.

But there is nothing necessarily evil in this error, and thus cruelty,
envy, revenge, avarice, and the passions purely evil have never formed
any portion of the popular imputations on the lives of poets.

I have thought it most favourable to the cause of truth to set down
these remarks according to the order in which they were suggested to
my mind by a consideration of the subject itself, instead of observing
the formality of a polemical reply; but if the view which they contain
be just, they will be found to involve a refutation of the arguers
against poetry, so far at least as regards the first division of the
subject. I can readily conjecture what should have moved the gall of
some learned and intelligent writers who quarrel with certain
versifiers; I confess myself, like them, unwilling to be stunned by
the Theseids of the hoarse Codri of the day. Bavius and Maevius
undoubtedly are, as they ever were, insufferable persons. But it belongs
to a philosophical critic to distinguish rather than confound.

The first part of these remarks has related to poetry in its elements
and principles; and it has been shown, as well as the narrow limits
assigned them would permit, that what is called poetry, in a restricted
sense, has a common source with all other forms of order and of beauty,
according to which the materials of human life are susceptible of being
arranged, and which is poetry in an universal sense.

The second part [Footnote: It was never written.] will have for its
object an application of these principles to the present state of the
cultivation of poetry, and a defence of the attempt to idealize the
modern forms of manners and opinions, and compel them into a
subordination to the imaginative and creative faculty. For the
literature of England, an energetic development of which has ever
preceded or accompanied a great and free development of the national
will, has arisen, as it were, from a new birth. In spite of the low-
thoughted envy which would undervalue contemporary merit, our own will
be a memorable age in intellectual achievements, and we live among
such philosophers and poets as surpass beyond comparison any who have
appeared since the last national struggle for civil and religious
liberty. The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the
awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or
institution is poetry. At such periods there is an accumulation of the
power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions
respecting men and nature. The persons in whom this power resides may
often, as far as regards many portions of their nature, have little
apparent correspondence with that spirit of good of which they are the
ministers. But even whilst they deny and abjure, they are yet compelled
to serve, the power which is seated on the throne of their own soul.
It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers
of the present day without being startled with the electric life which
burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the
depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit,
and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its
manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the
age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the
mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present;
the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which
sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which
is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of
the world.




The brief account here given of the work of Goethe was originally
published as part of the introduction to the volume of translations
called _German Romance_, which was published in 1827. It is now commonly
printed as an appendix to the first volume of Carlyle's _Miscellanies_.
Carlyle was probably never at his best when he gave himself to the
study of a particular author. His genius rather lay in the more general
aspects of his work, and in the force with which he gave an entirely
new turn to the currents of English criticism. Of his studies upon
particular authors, the essay on Burns is perhaps the most complete
and the most penetrating. But it is too long for the purposes of this
selection. Nor is it amiss that he should here be represented by a
work which may remind us that, among his services to English letters,
to have opened the stores of German poetry and thought was by no means
the least memorable.

Of a nature so rare and complex as Goethe's it is difficult to form
a true comprehension; difficult even to express what comprehension one
has formed. In Goethe's mind, the first aspect that strikes us is its
calmness, then its beauty; a deeper inspection reveals to us its
vastness and unmeasured strength. This man rules, and is not ruled.
The stern and fiery energies of a most passionate soul lie silent in
the centre of his being; a trembling sensibility has been inured to
stand, without flinching or murmur, the sharpest trials. Nothing
outward, nothing inward, shall agitate or control him. The brightest
and most capricious fancy, the most piercing and inquisitive intellect,
the wildest and deepest imagination; the highest thrills of joy, the
bitterest pangs of sorrow: all these are his, he is not theirs. While
he moves every heart from its steadfastness, his own is firm and still:
the words that search into the inmost recesses of our nature, he
pronounces with a tone of coldness and equanimity; in the deepest
pathos he weeps not, or his tears are like water trickling from a rock
of adamant. He is king of himself and of his world; nor does he rule
it like a vulgar great man, like a Napoleon or Charles Twelfth, by the
mere brute exertion of his will, grounded on no principle, or on a
false one: his faculties and feelings are not fettered or prostrated
under the iron sway of Passion, but led and guided in kindly union
under the mild sway of Reason; as the fierce primeval elements of
Nature were stilled at the coming of Light, and bound together, under
its soft vesture, into a glorious and beneficent Creation.

This is the true Rest of man; no stunted unbelieving callousness, no
reckless surrender to blind Force, no opiate delusion; but the
harmonious adjustment of Necessity and Accident, of what is changeable
and what is unchangeable in our destiny; the calm supremacy of the
spirit over its circumstances; the dim aim of every human soul, the
full attainment of only a chosen few. It comes not unsought to any;
but the wise are wise because they think no price too high for it.
Goethe's inward home has been reared by slow and laborious efforts;
but it stands on no hollow or deceitful basis: for his peace is not
from blindness, but from clear vision; not from uncertain hope of
alteration, but from sure insight into what cannot alter. His world
seems once to have been desolate and baleful as that of the darkest
sceptic: but he has covered it anew with beauty and solemnity, derived
from deeper sources, over which Doubt can have no sway. He has inquired
fearlessly, and fearlessly searched out and denied the False; but he
has not forgotten, what is equally essential and infinitely harder,
to search out and admit the True. His heart is still full of warmth,
though his head is clear and cold; the world for him is still full of
grandeur, though he clothes it with no false colours; his
fellow-creatures are still objects of reverence and love, though their
basenesses are plainer to no eye than to his. To reconcile these
contradictions is the task of all good men, each for himself, in his
own way and manner; a task which, in our age, is encompassed with
difficulties peculiar to the time; and which Goethe seems to have
accomplished with a success that few can rival. A mind so in unity
with itself, even though it were a poor and small one, would arrest
our attention, and win some kind regard from us; but when this mind
ranks among the strongest and most complicated of the species, it
becomes a sight full of interest, a study full of deep instruction.

Such a mind as Goethe's is the fruit not only of a royal endowment by
nature, but also of a culture proportionate to her bounty. In Goethe's
original form of spirit we discern the highest gifts of manhood, without
any deficiency of the lower: he has an eye and a heart equally for the
sublime, the common, and the ridiculous; the elements at once of a
poet, a thinker, and a wit. Of his culture we have often spoken already;
and it deserves again to be held up to praise and imitation. This, as
he himself unostentatiously confesses, has been the soul of all his
conduct, the great enterprise of his life; and few that understand him
will be apt to deny that he has prospered. As a writer, his resources
have been accumulated from nearly all the provinces of human intellect
and activity; and he has trained himself to use these complicated
instruments with a light expertness which we might have admired in the
professor of a solitary department. Freedom, and grace, and smiling
earnestness are the characteristics of his works: the matter of them
flows along in chaste abundance, in the softest combination; and their
style is referred to by native critics as the highest specimen of the
German tongue. On this latter point the vote of a stranger may well
be deemed unavailing; but the charms of Goethe's style lie deeper than
the mere words; for language, in the hands of a master, is the express
image of thought, or rather it is the body of which thought is the
soul; the former rises into being together with the latter, and the
graces of the one are shadowed forth in the movements of the other.
Goethe's language, even to a foreigner, is full of character and
secondary meanings; polished, yet vernacular and cordial, it sounds
like the dialect of wise, ancient, and true-hearted men: in poetry,
brief, sharp, simple, and expressive; in prose, perhaps still more
pleasing; for it is at once concise and full, rich, clear, unpretending
and melodious; and the sense, not presented in alternating flashes,
piece after piece revealed and withdrawn, rises before us as in
continuous dawning, and stands at last simultaneously complete, and
bathed in the mellowest and ruddiest sunshine. It brings to mind what
the prose of Hooker, Bacon, Milton, Browne, would have been, had they
written under the good, without the bad influences, of that French
precision, which has polished and attenuated, trimmed and impoverished,
all modern languages; made our meaning clear, and too often shallow
as well as clear.

But Goethe's culture as a writer is perhaps less remarkable than his
culture as a man. He has learned not in head only, but also in heart:
not from Art and Literature, but also by action and passion, in the
rugged school of Experience. If asked what was the grand characteristic
of his writings, we should not say knowledge, but wisdom. A mind that
has seen, and suffered, and done, speaks to us of what it has tried
and conquered. A gay delineation will give us notice of dark and
toilsome experiences, of business done in the great deep of the spirit;
a maxim, trivial to the careless eye, will rise with light and solution
over long perplexed periods of our own history. It is thus that heart
speaks to heart, that the life of one man becomes a possession to all.
Here is a mind of the most subtle and tumultuous elements; but it is
governed in peaceful diligence, and its impetuous and ethereal faculties
work softly together for good and noble ends. Goethe may be called a
Philosopher; for he loves and has practised as a man the wisdom which,
as a poet, he inculcates. Composure and cheerful seriousness seem to
breathe over all his character. There is no whining over human woes:
it is understood that we must simply all strive to alleviate or remove
them. There is no noisy battling for opinions; but a persevering effort
to make Truth lovely, and recommend her, by a thousand avenues, to the
hearts of all men. Of his personal manners we can easily believe the
universal report, as often given in the way of censure as of praise,
that he is a man of consummate breeding and the stateliest presence:
for an air of polished tolerance, of courtly, we might almost say
majestic repose, and serene humanity, is visible throughout his works.
In no line of them does he speak with asperity of any man; scarcely
ever even of a thing. He knows the good, and loves it; he knows the
bad and hateful, and rejects it; but in neither case with violence:
his love is calm and active; his rejection is implied, rather than
pronounced; meek and gentle, though we see that it is thorough, and
never to be revoked. The noblest and the basest he not only seems to
comprehend, but to personate and body forth in their most secret
lineaments: hence actions and opinions appear to him as they are, with
all the circumstances which extenuate or endear them to the hearts
where they originated and are entertained. This also is the spirit of
our Shakespeare, and perhaps of every great dramatic poet. Shakespeare
is no sectarian; to all he deals with equity and mercy; because he
knows all, and his heart is wide enough for all. In his mind the world
is a whole; he figures it as Providence governs it; and to him it is
not strange that the sun should be caused to shine on the evil and the
good, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Goethe has been called the German Voltaire; but it is a name which
does him wrong, and describes him ill. Except in the corresponding
variety of their pursuits and knowledge, in which, perhaps, it does
Voltaire wrong, the two cannot be compared. Goethe is all, or the best
of all, that Voltaire was, and he is much that Voltaire did not dream
of. To say nothing of his dignified and truthful character as a man,
he belongs, as a thinker and a writer, to a far higher class than this
_enfant gate du monde qu'il gata_. He is not a questioner and a
despiser, but a teacher and a reverencer; not a destroyer, but a
builder-up; not a wit only, but a wise man. Of him Montesquieu could
not have said, with even epigrammatic truth: _Il a plus que personne
l'esprit que tout le monde a_. Voltaire was the _cleverest_ of all
past and present men; but a great man is something more, and this he
surely was not.

As poets, the two live not in the same hemisphere, not in the same
world. Of Voltaire's poetry, it were blindness to deny the polished
intellectual vigour, the logical symmetry, the flashes that from time
to time give it the colour, if not the warmth, of fire: but it is in
a far other sense than this that Goethe is a poet; in a sense of which
the French literature has never afforded any example. We may venture
to say of him, that his province is high and peculiar; higher than any
poet but himself, for several generations, has so far succeeded in,
perhaps even has steadfastly attempted. In reading Goethe's poetry,
it perpetually strikes us that we are reading the poetry of our own
day and generation. No demands are made on our credulity; the light,
the science, the scepticism of the age, are not hid from us. He does
not deal in antiquated mythologies, or ring changes on traditionary
poetic forms; there are no supernal, no infernal influences, for _Faust_
is an apparent rather than a real exception: but there is the barren
prose of the nineteenth century, the vulgar life which we are all
leading; and it starts into strange beauty in his hands; and we pause
in delighted wonder to behold the flower of Poesy blooming in that
parched and rugged soil. This is the end of his _Mignons_ and _Harpers_,
of his _Tassos_ and _Meisters_. Poetry, as he views it, exists not in
time or place, but in the spirit of man; and Art, with Nature, is now
to perform for the poet, what Nature alone performed of old. The
divinities and demons, the witches, spectres, and fairies, are vanished
from the world, never again to be recalled: but the Imagination which
created these still lives, and will forever live in man's soul; and
can again pour its wizard light over the Universe, and summon forth
enchantments as lovely or impressive, and which its sister faculties
will not contradict. To say that Goethe has accomplished all this,
would be to say that his genius is greater than was ever given to any
man: for if it was a high and glorious mind, or rather series of minds,
that peopled the first ages with their peculiar forms of poetry, it
must be a series of minds much higher and more glorious that shall so
people the present. The angels and demons that can lay prostrate our
hearts in the nineteenth century must be of another and more cunning
fashion than those that subdued us in the ninth. To have attempted,
to have begun this enterprise, may be accounted the greatest praise.
That Goethe ever meditated it, in the form here set forth, we have no
direct evidence: but indeed such is the end and aim of high poetry at
all times and seasons; for the fiction of the poet is not falsehood,
but the purest truth; and if he would lead captive our whole being,
not rest satisfied with a part of it, he must address us on interests
that _are_, not that _were_, ours; and in a dialect which finds a
response, and not a contradiction, within our bosoms.

How Goethe has fulfilled these conditions in addressing us, an
inspection of his works, but no description, can inform us. Let me
advise the reader to study them, and see. If he come to the task with
an opinion that poetry is an amusement, a passive recreation; that its
highest object is to supply a languid mind with fantastic shows and
indolent emotions, his measure of enjoyment is likely to be scanty,
and his criticisms will be loud, angry, and manifold. But if he know
and believe that poetry is the essence of all science, and requires
the purest of all studies; if he recollect that the new may not always
be the false; that the excellence which can be seen in a moment is not
usually a very deep one; above all, if his own heart be full of feelings
and experiences, for which he finds no name and no solution, but which
lie in pain imprisoned and unuttered in his breast, till the Word be
spoken, the spell that is to unbind them, and bring them forth to
liberty and light; then, if I mistake not, he will find that in this
Goethe there is a new world set before his eyes; a world of Earnestness
and Sport, of solemn cliff and gay plain; some such temple--far
inferior, as it may well be, in magnificence and beauty, but a temple
of the same architecture--some such temple for the Spirit of our age,
as the Shakespeares and Spensers have raised for the Spirit of theirs.

This seems a bold assertion: but it is not made without deliberation,
and such conviction as it has stood within my means to obtain. If it
invite discussion, and forward the discovery of the truth in this
matter, its best purpose will be answered. Goethe's genius is a study
for other minds than have yet seriously engaged with it among us. By
and by, apparently ere long, he will be tried and judged righteously;
he himself, and no cloud instead of him; for he comes to us in such
a questionable shape, that silence and neglect will not always serve
our purpose. England, the chosen home of justice in all its senses,
where the humblest merit has been acknowledged, and the highest fault
not unduly punished, will do no injustice to this extraordinary man.
And if, when her impartial sentence has been pronounced and sanctioned,
it shall appear that Goethe's earliest admirers have wandered too far
into the language of panegyric, I hope it may be reckoned no
unpardonable sin. It is spirit-stirring rather than spirit-sharpening,
to consider that there is one of the Prophets here with us in our own
day: that a man who is to be numbered with the Sages and _Sacri Vates_,
the Shakespeares, the Tassos, the Cervanteses of the world, is looking
on the things which we look on, has dealt with the very thoughts which
we have to deal with, is reigning in serene dominion over the
perplexities and contradictions in which we are still painfully

That Goethe's mind is full of inconsistencies and shortcomings, can
be a secret to no one who has heard of the Fall of Adam. Nor would it
be difficult, in this place, to muster a long catalogue of darknesses
defacing our perception of this brightness: but it might be still less
profitable than it is difficult; for in Goethe's writings, as in those
of all true masters, an apparent blemish is apt, after maturer study,
to pass into a beauty. His works cannot be judged in fractions, for
each of them is conceived and written as a whole; the humble and common
may be no less essential there than the high and splendid: it is only
Chinese pictures that have no shade. There is a maxim, far better known
than practised, that to detect faults is a much lower occupation than
to recognize merits. We may add also, that though far easier in the
execution, it is not a whit more certain in the result. What is the
detecting of a fault, but the feeling of an incongruity, of a
contradiction, which may exist in ourselves as well as in the object?
Who shall say in which? None but he who sees this object as it is, and
himself as he is. We have all heard of the critic fly; but none of us
doubts the compass of his own vision. It is thus that a high work of
art, still more that a high and original mind, may at all times
calculate on much sorriest criticism. In looking at an extraordinary
man, it were good for an ordinary man to be sure of _seeing_ him,
before attempting to _oversee_ him. Having ascertained that Goethe is
an object deserving study, it will be time to censure his faults when
we have clearly estimated his merits; and if we are wise judges, not
till then.




Of the critics who have written during the last sixty years, Mr. Pater
is probably the most remarkable. His work is always weighted with
thought, and his thought is always fused with imagination. He unites,
in a singular degree of intensity, the two crucial qualities of the
critic, on the one hand a sense of form and colour and artistic
utterance, on the other hand a speculative instinct which pierces
behind these to the various types of idea and mood and character that
underlie them. He is equally alive to subtle resemblances and to subtle
differences, and art is to him not merely an intellectual enjoyment,
but something which is to be taken into the spirit of a man and to
become part of his life. Of the _history_ of literature, and the
problems that rise out of it, he takes but small account. But for the
other function assigned by Carlyle to criticism, for criticism as a
"creative art, aiming to reproduce under a different shape the existing
product of the artist, and painting to the intellect what already lay
painted to the heart and the imagination"--for this no man has done
more than Mr. Pater. With wider knowledge and a clearer consciousness
of the deeper issues involved, he may be said to have taken up the
work of Lamb and to have carried it forward in a spirit which those
who best love Lamb will be the most ready to admire.

Of Mr. Pater's literary criticisms, those on Wordsworth and Coleridge
are perhaps the most striking. But he was probably still more at home
in interpreting the work of the great painters. And of his
"appreciations" of painters none is more characteristic than his study
of Botticelli. It was written in 1870, and published in _The
Renaissance_ in 1873.

In Leonardo's treatise on painting only one contemporary is mentioned
by name--Sandro Botticelli. This pre-eminence may be due to chance
only, but to some it will appear a result of deliberate judgment; for
people have begun to find out the charm of Botticelli's work, and his
name, little known in the last century, is quietly becoming important.
In the middle of the fifteenth century he had already anticipated much
of that meditative subtlety, which is sometimes supposed peculiar to
the great imaginative workmen of its close. Leaving the simple religion
which had occupied the followers of Giotto for a century, and the
simple naturalism which had grown out of it, a thing of birds and
flowers only, he sought inspiration in what to him were works of the
modern world, the writings of Dante and Boccaccio, and in new readings
of his own of classical stories: or, if he painted religious incidents,
painted them with an undercurrent of original sentiment, which touches
you as the real matter of the picture through the veil of its ostensible
subject. What is the peculiar sensation, what is the peculiar quality
of pleasure, which his work has the property of exciting in us, and
which we cannot get elsewhere? For this, especially when he has to
speak of a comparatively unknown artist, is always the chief question
which a critic has to answer.

In an age when the lives of artists were full of adventure, his life
is almost colourless. Criticism, indeed, has cleared away much of the
gossip which Vasari accumulated, has touched the legend of Lippo and
Lucrezia, and rehabilitated the character of Andrea del Castagno. But
in Botticelli's case there is no legend to dissipate. He did not even
go by his true name: Sandro is a nickname, and his true name is
Filipepi, Botticelli being only the name of the goldsmith who first
taught him art. Only two things happened to him--two things which he
shared with other artists: he was invited to Rome to paint in the
Sistine Chapel, and he fell in later life under the influence of
Savonarola, passing apparently almost out of men's sight in a sort of
religious melancholy, which lasted till his death in 1515, according
to the received date. Vasari says that he plunged into the study of
Dante, and even wrote a comment on the _Divine Comedy_. But it seems
strange that he should have lived on inactive so long; and one almost
wishes that some document might come to light, which, fixing the date
of his death earlier, might relieve one, in thinking of him, of his
dejected old age.

He is before all things a poetical painter, blending the charm of story
and sentiment, the medium of the art of poetry, with the charm of line
and colour, the medium of abstract painting. So he becomes the
illustrator of Dante. In a few rare examples of the edition of 1481,
the blank spaces left at the beginning of every canto, for the hand
of the illuminator, have been filled, as far as the nineteenth canto
of the _Inferno_, with impressions of engraved plates, seemingly by
way of experiment, for in the copy in the Bodleian Library, one of the
three impressions it contains has been printed upside down, and much
awry, in the midst of the luxurious printed page. Giotto, and the
followers of Giotto, with their almost childish religious aim, had not
learned to put that weight of meaning into outward things--light,
colour, everyday gesture, which the poetry of the _Divine Comedy_
involves, and before the fifteenth century Dante could hardly have
found an illustrator. Botticelli's illustrations are crowded with
incident, blending, with a naive carelessness of pictorial propriety,
three phases of the same scene into one plate. The grotesques, so often
a stumbling-block to painters, who forget that the words of a poet,
which only feebly present an image to the mind, must be lowered in key
when translated into visible form, make one regret that he has not
rather chosen for illustration the more subdued imagery of the
_Purgatorio_. Yet in the scene of those who "go down quick into hell",
there is an inventive force about the fire taking hold on the upturned
soles of the feet, which proves that the design is no mere translation
of Dante's words, but a true painter's vision; while the scene of the
Centaurs wins one at once, for, forgetful of the actual circumstances
of their appearance, Botticelli has gone off with delight on the thought
of the Centaurs themselves, bright, small creatures of the woodland,
with arch baby faces and _mignon_ forms, drawing their tiny bows.

Botticelli lived in a generation of naturalists, and he might have
been a mere naturalist among them. There are traces enough in his work
of that alert sense of outward things, which, in the pictures of that
period, fills the lawns with delicate living creatures, and the
hillsides with pools of water, and the pools of water with flowering
reeds. But this was not enough for him; he is a visionary painter, and
in his visionariness he resembles Dante. Giotto, the tried companion
of Dante, Masaccio, Ghirlandajo even, do but transcribe, with more or
less refining, the outward image; they are dramatic, not visionary
painters; they are almost impassive spectators of the action before
them. But the genius of which Botticelli is the type usurps the data
before it as the exponent of ideas, moods, visions of its own; in this
interest it plays fast and loose with those data, rejecting some and
isolating others, and always combining them anew. To him, as to Dante,
the scene, the colour, the outward image or gesture, comes with all
its incisive and importunate reality; but awakes in him, moreover, by
some subtle law of his own structure, a mood which it awakes in no one
else, of which it is the double or repetition, and which it clothes,
that all may share it, with visible circumstance.

But he is far enough from accepting the conventional orthodoxy of Dante
which, referring all human action to the simple formula of purgatory,
heaven, and hell, leaves an insoluble element of prose in the depths
of Dante's poetry. One picture of his, with the portrait of the donor,
Matteo Palmieri, below, had the credit or discredit of attracting some
shadow of ecclesiastical censure. This Matteo Palmieri (two dim figures
move under that name in contemporary history) was the reputed author
of a poem, still unedited, _La Citta Divina_, which represented the
human race as an incarnation of those angels who, in the revolt of
Lucifer, were neither for Jehovah nor for His enemies, a fantasy of
that earlier Alexandrian philosophy about which the Florentine intellect
in that century was so curious. Botticelli's picture may have been
only one of those familiar compositions in which religious reverie has
recorded its impressions of the various forms of beatified
existence--_Glorias_, as they were called, like that in which Giotto
painted the portrait of Dante; but somehow it was suspected of embodying
in a picture the wayward dream of Palmieri, and the chapel where it
hung was closed. Artists so entire as Botticelli are usually careless
about philosophical theories, even when the philosopher is a Florentine
of the fifteenth century, and his work a poem in _terza rima_. But
Botticelli, who wrote a commentary on Dante, and became the disciple
of Savonarola, may well have let such theories come and go across him.
True or false, the story interprets much of the peculiar sentiment
with which he infuses his profane and sacred persons, comely, and in
a certain sense like angels, but with a sense of displacement or loss
about them--the wistfulness of exiles, conscious of a passion and
energy greater than any known issue of them explains, which runs through
all his varied work with a sentiment of ineffable melancholy.

So just what Dante scorns as unworthy alike of heaven and hell,
Botticelli accepts: that middle world in which men take no side in
great conflicts, and decide no great causes, and make great refusals.
He thus sets for himself the limits within which art, undisturbed by
any moral ambition, does its most sincere and surest work. His interest
is neither in the untempered goodness of Angelico's saints, nor the
untempered evil of Orcagna's _Inferno_; but with men and women, in
their mixed and uncertain condition, always attractive, clothed
sometimes by passion with a character of loveliness and energy, but
saddened perpetually by the shadow upon them of the great things from
which they shrink. His morality is all sympathy; and it is this
sympathy, conveying into his work somewhat more than is usual of the
true complexion of humanity, which makes him, visionary as he is, so
forcible a realist.

It is this which gives to his Madonnas their unique expression and
charm. He has worked out in them a distinct and peculiar type, definite
enough in his own mind, for he has painted it over and over again,
sometimes one might think almost mechanically, as a pastime during
that dark period when his thoughts were so heavy upon him. Hardly any
collection of note is without one of these circular pictures, into
which the attendant angels depress their heads so naively. Perhaps you
have sometimes wondered why those peevish-looking Madonnas, conformed
to no acknowledged or obvious type of beauty, attract you more and
more, and often come back to you when the Sistine Madonna and the
Virgins of Fra Angelico are forgotten. At first, contrasting them with
those, you may have thought that there was something in them mean or
abject even, for the abstract lines of the face have little nobleness,
and the colour is wan. For with Botticelli she too, though she holds
in her hands the "Desire of all nations", is one of those who are
neither for Jehovah nor for His enemies; and her choice is on her face.
The white light on it is cast up hard and cheerless from below, as
when snow lies upon the ground, and the children look up with surprise
at the strange whiteness of the ceiling. Her trouble is in the very
caress of the mysterious child, whose gaze is always far from her, and
who has already that sweet look of devotion which men have never been
able altogether to love, and which still makes the born saint an object
almost of suspicion to his earthly brethren. Once, indeed, he guides
her hand to transcribe in a book the words of her exaltation, the
_Ave_, and the _Magnificat_, and the _Gaude Maria_, and the young
angels, glad to rouse her for a moment from her dejection, are eager
to hold the inkhorn and to support the book. But the pen almost drops
from her hand, and the high cold words have no meaning for her, and
her true children are those others, among whom, in her rude home, the
intolerable honour came to her, with that look of wistful inquiry on
their irregular faces which you see in startled animals--gipsy children,
such as those who, in Apennine villages, still hold out their long
brown arms to beg of you, but on Sundays become _enfants du choeur_,
with their thick black hair nicely combed, and fair white linen on
their sunburnt throats.

What is strangest is that he carries this sentiment into classical
subjects, its most complete expression being a picture in the _Uffizii_,
of Venus rising from the sea, in which the grotesque emblems of the
middle age, and a landscape full of its peculiar feeling, and even its
strange draperies, powdered all over in the Gothic manner with a quaint
conceit of daisies, frame a figure that reminds you of the faultless
nude studies of Ingres. At first, perhaps, you are attracted only by
a quaintness of design, which seems to recall all at once whatever you
have read of Florence in the fifteenth century; afterwards you may
think that this quaintness must be incongruous with the subject, and
the colour is cadaverous or at least cold. And yet, the more you come
to understand what imaginative colouring really is, that all colour
is no mere delightful quality of natural things, but a spirit upon
them by which they become expressive to the spirit, the better you
will like this peculiar quality of colour; and you will find that
quaint design of Botticelli's a more direct inlet into the Greek temper
than the works of the Greeks themselves even of the finest period. Of
the Greeks as they really were, of their difference from ourselves,
of the aspects of their outward life, we know far more than Botticelli,
or his most learned contemporaries; but for us long familiarity has
taken off the edge of the lesson, and we are hardly conscious of what
we owe to the Hellenic spirit. But in pictures like this of Botticelli's
you have a record of the first impression made by it on minds turned
back towards it, in almost painful aspiration, from a world in which
it had been ignored so long; and in the passion, the energy, the
industry of realization, with which Botticelli carries out his
intention, is the exact measure of the legitimate influence over the
human mind of the imaginative system of which this is perhaps the
central subject. The light is indeed cold--mere sunless dawn; but a
later painter would have cloyed you with sunshine; and you can see the
better for that quietness in the morning air each long promontory, as
it slopes down to the water's edge. Men go forth to their labours until
the evening; but she is awake before them, and you might think that
the sorrow in her face was at the thought of the whole long day of
love yet to come. An emblematical figure of the wind blows hard across
the gray water, moving forward the dainty-lipped shell on which she
sails, the sea "showing his teeth", as it moves, in thin lines of foam,
and sucking in, one by one, the falling roses, each severe in outline,
plucked off short at the stalk, but embrowned a little, as Botticelli's
flowers always are. Botticelli meant all this imagery to be altogether
pleasurable, and it was partly an incompleteness of resources,
inseparable from the art of that time, that subdued and chilled it.
But his predilection for minor tones counts also; and what is
unmistakable is the sadness with which he has conceived the goddess
of pleasure, as the depository of a great power over the lives of men.

I have said that the peculiar character of Botticelli is the result
of a blending in him of a sympathy for humanity in its uncertain
condition, its attractiveness, its investiture at rarer moments in a
character of loveliness and energy, with his consciousness of the
shadow upon it of the great things from which it shrinks, and that
this conveys into his work somewhat more than painting usually attains
of the true complexion of humanity. He paints the story of the goddess
of pleasure in other episodes besides that of her birth from the sea,
but never without some shadow of death in the gray flesh and wan
flowers. He paints Madonnas, but they shrink from the pressure of the
divine child, and plead in unmistakable undertones for a warmer, lower
humanity. The same figure--tradition connects it with Simonetta, the
mistress of Giuliano de' Medici-appears again as Judith, returning
home across the hill country, when the great deed is over, and the
moment of revulsion come, when the olive branch in her hand is becoming
a burthen; as _Justice_, sitting on a throne, but with a fixed look
of self-hatred which makes the sword in her hand seem that of a suicide;
and again as _Veritas_, in the allegorical picture of _Calumnia_, where
one may note in passing the suggestiveness of an accident which
identifies the image of Truth with the person of Venus. We might trace
the same sentiment through his engravings; but his share in them is
doubtful, and the object of this brief study has been attained if I
have defined aright the temper in which he worked.

But, after all, it may be asked, is a painter like Botticelli--a
secondary painter--a proper subject for general criticism? There are
a few great painters, like Michelangelo or Leonardo, whose work has
become a force in general culture, partly for this very reason that
they have absorbed into themselves all such workmen as Sandro
Botticelli; and, over and above mere technical or antiquarian criticism,
general criticism may be very well employed in that sort of
interpretation which adjusts the position of these men to general
culture, whereas smaller men can be the proper subjects only of
technical or antiquarian treatment. But, besides those great men, there
is a certain number of artists who have a distinct faculty of their
own by which they convey to us a peculiar quality of pleasure which
we cannot get elsewhere; and these, too, have their place in general
culture, and must be interpreted to it by those who have felt their
charm strongly, and are often the object of a special diligence and
a consideration wholly affectionate, just because there is not about
them the stress of a great name and authority. Of this select number
Botticelli is one. He has the freshness, the uncertain and diffident
promise, which belong to the earlier Renaissance itself, and make it
perhaps the most interesting period in the history of the mind. In
studying his work one begins to understand to how great a place in
human culture the art of Italy had been called.


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