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by being put into the mouth of a person accustomed to higgle about tape,
or brass sleeve-buttons? Or is it not plain that, independent of the
ridicule and disgust which such a personification must give to many of
his readers, its adoption exposes his work throughout to the charge of
revolting incongruity, and utter disregard of probability or nature?
For, after he has thus wilfully debased his moral teacher by a low
occupation, is there one word that he puts into his mouth, or one
sentiment of which he makes him the organ, that has the most remote
reference to that occupation? Is there any thing in his learned,
abstracted, and logical harangues, that savours of the calling that is
ascribed to him? Are any of their materials such as a pedlar could
possibly have dealt in? Are the manners, the diction, the sentiments, in
any, the very smallest degree, accommodated to a person in that
condition? or are they not eminently and conspicuously such as could not
by possibility belong to it? A man who went about selling flannel and
pocket-handkerchiefs in this lofty diction, would soon frighten away all
his customers; and would infallibly pass either for a madman, or for
some learned and affected gentleman, who, in a frolic, had taken up a
character which he was peculiarly ill qualified for supporting.

The absurdity in this case, we think, is palpable and glaring; but it is
exactly of the same nature with that which infects the whole substance
of the work - a puerile ambition of singularity engrafted on an unlucky
predilection for truisms; and an affected passion for simplicity and
humble life, most awkwardly combined with a taste for mystical
refinements, and all the gorgeousness of obscure phraseology. His taste
for simplicity is evinced, by sprinkling up and down his interminable
declamations, a few descriptions of baby-houses, and of old hats with
wet brims; and his amiable partiality for humble life, by assuring us,
that a wordy rhetorician, who talks about Thebes, and allegorizes all
the heathen mythology, was once a pedlar - and making him break in upon
his magnificent orations with two or three awkward notices of something
that he had seen when selling winter raiment about the country - or of
the changes in the state of society, which had almost annihilated his
former calling.




ON KEATS

[From _The Edinburgh Review_, August, 1820]

1. _Endymion: A Poetic Romance_. By JOHN KEATS. 8vo. pp. 207. London,
1818.

2. _Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other Poems._ By JOHN
KEATS, Author of _Endymion_. 12mo. pp. 200. London, 1820.

We had never happened to see either of these volumes till very lately -
and have been exceedingly struck with the genius they display, and the
spirit of poetry which breathes through all their extravagance. That
imitation of our older writers, and especially of our older dramatists,
to which we cannot help flattering ourselves that we have somewhat
contributed, has brought on, as it were, a second spring in our poetry;
- and few of its blossoms are either more profuse of sweetness or richer
in promise, than this which is now before us. Mr. Keats, we understand,
is still a very young man; and his whole works, indeed, bear evidence
enough of the fact. They are full of extravagance and irregularity, rash
attempts at originality, interminable wanderings, and excessive
obscurity. They manifestly require, therefore, all the indulgence that
can be claimed for a first attempt: - but we think it no less plain that
they deserve it; for they are flushed all over with the rich lights of
fancy, and so coloured and bestrewn with the flowers of poetry, that
even while perplexed and bewildered in their labyrinths, it is
impossible to resist the intoxication of their sweetness, or to shut our
hearts to the enchantments they so lavishly present. The models upon
which he has formed himself, in the Endymion, the earliest and by much
the most considerable of his poems, are obviously the Faithful
Shepherdess of Fletcher, and the Sad Shepherd of Ben Jonson; - the
exquisite metres and inspired diction of which he has copied with great
boldness and fidelity - and, like his great originals, has also contrived
to impart to the whole piece that true rural and poetical air which
breathes only in them and in Theocritus - which is at once homely and
majestic, luxurious and rude, and sets before us the genuine sights and
sounds and smells of the country, with all the magic and grace of
Elysium. His subject has the disadvantage of being mythological; and in
this respect, as well as on account of the raised and rapturous tone it
consequently assumes, his poetry may be better compared perhaps to the
Comus and the Arcades of Milton, of which, also, there are many traces
of imitation. The great distinction, however, between him and these
divine authors, is, that imagination in them is subordinate to reason
and judgment, while, with him, it is paramount and supreme - that their
ornaments and images are employed to embellish and recommend just
sentiments, engaging incidents, and natural characters, while his are
poured out without measure or restraint, and with no apparent design but
to unburden the breast of the author, and give vent to the overflowing
vein of his fancy. The thin and scanty tissue of his story is merely the
light framework on which his florid wreaths are suspended; and while his
imaginations go rambling and entangling themselves everywhere, like wild
honeysuckles, all idea of sober reason, and plan, and consistency, is
utterly forgotten, and is "strangled in their waste fertility." A great
part of the work, indeed, is written in the strangest and most
fantastical manner that can be imagined. It seems as if the author had
ventured everything that occurred to him in the shape of a glittering
image or striking expression - taken the first word that presented itself
to make up a rhyme, and then made that word the germ of a new cluster of
images - a hint for a new excursion of the fancy - and so wandered on,
equally forgetful whence he came, and heedless whither he was going,
till he had covered his pages with an interminable arabesque of
connected and incongruous figures, that multiplied as they extended, and
were only harmonized by the brightness of their tints, and the graces of
their forms. In this rash and headlong career he has of course many
lapses and failures. There is no work, accordingly, from which a
malicious critic could cull more matter for ridicule, or select more
obscure, unnatural, or absurd passages. But we do not take _that_ to be
our office; - and just beg leave, on the contrary, to say, that any one
who, on this account, would represent the whole poem as despicable, must
either have no notion of poetry, or no regard to truth.

It is, in truth, at least as full of genius as of absurdity; and he who
does not find a great deal in it to admire and to give delight, cannot
in his heart see much beauty in the two exquisite dramas to which we
have already alluded, or find any great pleasure in some of the finest
creations of Milton and Shakespeare. There are very many such persons,
we verily believe, even among the reading and judicious part of the
community - correct scholars we have no doubt many of them, and, it may
be, very classical composers in prose and in verse - but utterly ignorant
of the true genius of English poetry, and incapable of estimating its
appropriate and most exquisite beauties. With that spirit we have no
hesitation in saying that Mr. K. is deeply imbued - and of those beauties
he has presented us with many striking examples. We are very much
inclined indeed to add, that we do not know any book which we would
sooner employ as a test to ascertain whether any one had in him a native
relish for poetry, and a genuine sensibility to its intrinsic charm. The
greater and more distinguished poets of our country have so much else in
them to gratify other tastes and propensities, that they are pretty sure
to captivate and amuse those to whom their poetry is but an hindrance
and obstruction, as well as those to whom it constitutes their chief
attraction. The interest of the stories they tell - the vivacity of the
characters they delineate - the weight and force of the maxims and
sentiments in which they abound - the very pathos and wit and humour they
display, which may all and each of them exist apart from their poetry
and independent of it, are quite sufficient to account for their
popularity, without referring much to that still higher gift, by which
they subdue to their enchantments those whose souls are attuned to the
finer impulses of poetry. It is only where those other recommendations
are wanting, or exist in a weaker degree, that the true force of the
attraction, exercised by the pure poetry with which they are so often
combined, can be fairly appreciated - where, without much incident or
many characters, and with little wit, wisdom, or arrangement, a number
of bright pictures are presented to the imagination, and a fine feeling
expressed of those mysterious relations by which visible external things
are assimilated with inward thoughts and emotions, and become the images
and exponents of all passions and affections. To an unpoetical reader
such passages always appear mere raving and absurdity - and to this
censure a very great part of the volume before us will certainly be
exposed, with this class of readers. Even in the judgment of a fitter
audience, however, it must, we fear, be admitted, that, besides the riot
and extravagance of his fancy, the scope and substance of Mr. K.'s
poetry is rather too dreary and abstracted to excite the strongest
interest, or to sustain the attention through a work of any great
compass or extent. He deals too much with shadowy and incomprehensible
beings, and is too constantly rapt into an extramundane Elysium, to
command a lasting interest with ordinary mortals - and must employ the
agency of more varied and coarser emotions, if he wishes to take rank
with the seducing poets of this or of former generations. There is
something very curious too, we think, in the way in which he, and Mr.
Barry Cornwall also, have dealt with the Pagan mythology, of which they
have made so much use in their poetry. Instead of presenting its
imaginary persons under the trite and vulgar traits that belong to them
in the ordinary systems, little more is borrowed from these than the
general conception of their conditions and relations; and an original
character and distinct individuality is bestowed upon them, which has
all the merit of invention, and all the grace and attraction of the
fictions on which it is engrafted. The antients, though they probably
did not stand in any great awe of their deities, have yet abstained very
much from any minute or dramatic representation of their feelings and
affections. In Hesiod and Homer, they are coarsely delineated by some of
their actions and adventures, and introduced to us merely as the agents
in those particular transactions; while in the Hymns, from those
ascribed to Orpheus and Homer, down to those of Callimachus, we have
little but pompous epithets and invocations, with a flattering
commemoration of their most famous exploits - and are never allowed to
enter into their bosoms, or follow out the train of their feelings, with
the presumption of our human sympathy. Except the love-song of the
Cyclops to his Sea Nymph in Theocritus - the Lamentation of Venus for
Adonis in Moschus - and the more recent Legend of Apuleius, we scarcely
recollect a passage in all the writings of antiquity in which the
passions of an immortal are fairly disclosed to the scrutiny and
observation of men. The author before us, however, and some of his
contemporaries, have dealt differently with the subject; - and,
sheltering the violence of the fiction under the ancient traditionary
fable, have created and imagined an entire new set of characters, and
brought closely and minutely before us the loves and sorrows and
perplexities of beings, with whose names and supernatural attributes we
had long been familiar, without any sense or feeling of their personal
character. We have more than doubts of the fitness of such personages to
maintain a permanent interest with the modern public; - but the way in
which they are here managed, certainly gives them the best chance that
now remains for them; and, at all events, it cannot be denied that the
effect is striking and graceful.

* * * * *

There is a fragment of a projected Epic, entitled "Hyperion," on the
expulsion of Saturn and the Titanian deities by Jupiter and his younger
adherents, of which we cannot advise the completion: For, though there
are passages of some force and grandeur, it is sufficiently obvious,
from the specimen before us, that the subject is too far removed from
all the sources of human interest, to be successfully treated by any
modern author. Mr. Keats has unquestionably a very beautiful
imagination, and a great familiarity with the finest diction of English
poetry; but he must learn not to misuse or misapply these advantages;
and neither to waste the good gifts of nature and study on intractable
themes, nor to luxuriate too recklessly on such as are more suitable.




LORD BROUGHAM ON BYRON

[From _The Edinburgh Review_, January, 1808]

_Hours of Idleness: A series of Poems, Original and Translated._ By
GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON, a minor. Newark, 1807.

The poesy of this young lord belongs to the class which neither gods nor
men are said to permit. Indeed, we do not recollect to have seen a
quantity of verse with so few deviations in either direction from that
exact standard. His effusions are spread over a dead flat, and can no
more get above or below the level, than if they were so much stagnant
water. As an extenuation of this offence, the noble author is peculiarly
forward in pleading minority. We have it in the title-page, and on the
very back of the volume; it follows his name like a favourite part of
his _style_. Much stress is laid upon it in the preface, and the poems
are connected with this general statement of his case, by particular
dates, substantiating the age at which each was written. Now, the law
upon the point of morality, we hold to be perfectly clear. It is a plea
available only to the defendant; no plaintiff can offer it as a
supplementary ground of action. Thus, if any suit could be brought
against Lord Byron, for the purpose of compelling him to put into court
a certain quantity of poetry; and if judgment were given against him, it
is highly probable that an exception would be taken, were he to deliver
_for poetry_, the contents of this volume. To this he might plead
_minority;_ but as he now makes voluntary tender of the article, he hath
no right to sue, on that ground, for the price is in good current
praise, should the goods be unmarketable. This is our view of the law on
the point, and we dare to say, so will it be ruled. Perhaps, however, in
reality, all that he tells us about his youth, is rather with a view to
increase our wonder, than to soften our censures. He possibly means to
say, "See how a minor can write! This poem was actually composed by a
young man of eighteen, and this by one of only sixteen!" But, alas, we
all remember the poetry of Cowley at ten, and Pope at twelve; and so far
from hearing, with any surprise, that very poor verses were written by a
youth from his leaving school to his leaving college, inclusive, we
really believe this to be the most common of all occurrences; that it
happens in the life of nine men in ten who are educated in England; and
that the tenth man writes better verse than Lord Byron.

His other plea of privilege, our author rather brings forward to wave
it. He certainly, however, does allude frequently to his family and
ancestors - sometimes in poetry, sometimes in notes; and while giving up
his claim on the score of rank, he takes care to remember us of Dr.
Johnson's saying, that when a nobleman appears as an author, his merit
should be handsomely acknowledged. In truth, it is this consideration
only, that induces us to give Lord Byron's poems a place in our review,
besides our desire to counsel him, that he do forthwith abandon poetry,
and turn his talents, which are considerable, and his opportunities,
which are great, to better account.

With this view, we must beg leave seriously to assure him, that the mere
rhyming of the final syllable, even when accompanied by a certain number
of feet; nay, although (which does not always happen) those feet should
scan regularly, and have been all counted accurately upon the fingers -
is not the whole art of poetry. We would entreat him to believe, that a
certain portion of liveliness, somewhat of fancy, is necessary to
constitute a poem; and that a poem in the present day, to be read, must
contain at least one thought, either in a little degree different from
the ideas of former writers, or differently expressed. We put it to his
candour, whether there is anything so deserving the name of poetry in
verses like the following, written in 1806, and whether, if a youth of
eighteen could say anything so uninteresting to his ancestors, a youth
of nineteen should publish it.

Shades of heroes farewell! your descendant, departing
From the seat of his ancestors, bids you, adieu! etc., etc.

Lord Byron should also have a care of attempting what the greatest poets
have done before him, for comparisons (as he must have had occasion to
see at his writing-master's) are odious. Gray's ode on Eton College,
should really have kept out the ten hobbling stanzas "on a distant view
of the village and school of Harrow." ...

However, be this as it may, we fear his translations and imitations are
great favourites with Lord Byron. We have them of all kinds, from
Anacreon to Ossian; and, viewing them as school exercises, they may
pass. Only why print them after they have had their day and served their
turn?...

It is a sort of privilege of poets to be egotists; but they should "use
it as not abusing it"; and particularly one who piques himself (though
indeed at the ripe age of nineteen) of being "an infant bard" - ("The
artless Helicon I boast is youth";) - should either not know, or not seem
to know, so much about his own ancestry. Besides a poem on the family
seat of the Byrons, we have another on the self same subject, introduced
with an apology, "he certainly had no intention of inserting it"; but
really, "the particular request of some friends," etc., etc. It
concludes with five stanzas on himself, "the last and youngest of a
noble line." There is a good deal also about his maternal ancestors, in
a poem on Lachin-y-gair, a mountain where he spent part of his youth,
and might have learnt that a _pibroch_ is not a bagpipe, any more than a
duet means a fiddle....

But whatever judgment may be passed on the poems of this noble junior,
it seems we must take them as we find them, and be content; for they are
the last we shall ever have from him. He is at best, he says, but an
intruder into the groves of Parnassus; he never lived in a garret, like
thorough-bred poets; and "though he once roved a careless mountaineer in
the Highlands of Scotland," he has not of late enjoyed this advantage.
Moreover, he expects no profit from his publication; and whether it
succeeds or not, "it is highly improbable, from his situation and
pursuits hereafter," that he should again condescend to become an
author. Therefore, let us take what we can get and be thankful. What
right have we poor devils to be nice? We are well off to have got so
much from a man of this Lord's station, who does not live in a garret,
but "has the sway" of Newstead Abbey. Again we say, let us be thankful;
and, with honest Sancho, bid God bless the giver, nor look the gift
horse in the mouth.




SYDNEY SMITH ON HANNAH MOORE

[From _The Edinburgh Review_, April, 1809]

_Caelebs in Search of a Wife; comprehending Observations on Domestic
Habits and Manners, Religion and Morals._ 2 vols. London, 1809.


This book is written, or supposed to be written (for we would speak
timidly of the mysteries of superior beings), by the celebrated Mrs.
Hannah Moore! We shall probably give great offence by such indiscretion;
but still we must be excused for treating it as a book merely human, - an
uninspired production, - the result of mortality left to itself, and
depending on its own limited resources. In taking up the subject in this
point of view, we solemnly disclaim the slightest intention of indulging
in any indecorous levity, or of wounding the religious feelings of a
large class of very respectable persons. It is the only method in which
we can possibly make this work a proper object of criticism. We have the
strongest possible doubts of the attributes usually ascribed to this
authoress; and we think it more simple and manly to say so at once, than
to admit nominally superlunary claims, which, in the progress of our
remarks, we should virtually deny.

Caelebs wants a wife; and, after the death of his father, quits his
estate in Northumberland to see the world, and to seek for one of its
best productions, a woman, who may add materially to the happiness of
his future life. His first journey is to London, where, in the midst of
the gay society of the metropolis, of course, he does not find a wife;
and his next journey is to the family of Mr. Stanley, the head of the
Methodists, a serious people, where, of course, he does find a wife. The
exaltation, therefore, of what the authoress deems to be the religious,
and the depretiation of what she considers to be the worldly character,
and the influence of both upon matrimonial happiness, form the subject
of this novel - rather of this _dramatic sermon_.

The machinery upon which the discourse is suspended, is of the slightest
and most inartificial texture, bearing every mark of haste, and
possessing not the slightest claim to merit. Events there are none; and
scarcely a character of any interest. The book is intended to convey
religious advice; and no more labour appears to have been bestowed upon
the story, than was merely sufficient to throw it out of the dry,
didactic form. Lucilla is totally uninteresting; so is Mr. Stanley; Dr.
Barlow still worse; and Caelebs a mere clod or dolt. Sir John and Lady
Belfield are rather more interesting - and for a very obvious reason,
they have some faults; - they put us in mind of men and women; - they seem
to belong to one common nature with ourselves. As we read, we seem to
think we might act as such people act, and therefore we attend; whereas
imitation is hopeless in the more perfect characters which Mrs. Moore
has set before us; and therefore, they inspire us with very little
interest.

There are books however of all kinds; and those may not be unwisely
planned which set before us very pure models. They are less probable,
and therefore less amusing than ordinary stories; but they are more
amusing than plain, unfabled precept. Sir Charles Grandison is less
agreeable than Tom Jones; but it is more agreeable than Sherlock and
Tillotson; and teaches religion and morality to many who would not seek
it in the productions of these professional writers.

But, making every allowance for the difficulty of the task which Mrs.
Moore has prescribed to herself, the book abounds with marks of
negligence and want of skill; with representations of life and manners
which are either false or trite.

Temples to friendship and virtue must be totally laid aside, for many
years to come, in novels. Mr. Lane, of the Minerva Press, has given them
up long since; and we were quite surprised to find such a writer as Mrs.
Moore busied in moral brick and mortar. Such an idea, at first, was
merely juvenile; the second time a little nauseous; but the ten
thousandth time, it is quite intolerable. Caelebs, upon his first
arrival in London, dines out, - meets with a bad dinner, - supposes the
cause of that bad dinner to be the erudition of the ladies of the
house, - talks to them upon learned subjects, and finds them as dull and
ignorant as if they had piqued themselves upon all the mysteries of
housewifery. We humbly submit to Mrs. Moore, that this is not humorous,
but strained and unnatural. Philippics against frugivorous children
after dinner, are too common. Lady Melbury has been introduced into
every novel for these four years last past. Peace to her ashes!...

The great object kept in view throughout the whole of this introduction,
is the enforcement of religious principle, and the condemnation of a
life lavished in dissipation and fashionable amusement. In the pursuit



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