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thing distinct, is folly, except in technical instruction. Rhythm is not a thing invented by man, but a thing evolved from him*, and it is not merely the accidental form, but the only possible form of poetry; for there is a rhythm of feeling correspondent in the human soul. “Melody," said Beethoven, “is the sensual life of poetry. Do not the spiritual contents of a poem become sensual feeling through melody?” Verse is the type of the soul within.
Poetry then, we agree with Wordsworth, is not the antithesis to prose, neither is animal the antithesis to plant; but a generic difference exists, which it is always fatal to overlook. Verse is not synonymous with poetry, but is the incarnation of it; and prose may be emotive-poetical, but never poetry. To those who assert, that all that is said in verse might be equally said in prose, we answer, as soon might cabbages be violets; we may as well object to the restricted size of the violet, forgetting its odour, or to its want of utility, forgetting its beauty. George Sand, in ‘Les Sept Cordes de la Lyre,' has a fine answer to some objections on the incompleteness of the form of art for the communication of truth : “ Maître, vous oubliez que l'art est une forme, et rien autre chose.” And a greater than George Sand has profoundly said,
“ Müsset in dem Kunstbetrachten
Immer Eins wie Alles achten,
Denn was innen, das ist aussen.” We wish this point to be well weighed, because, if we are correct in our conclusions, they lead to important results, and many old debated questions vanish at once. Their principal merit consists in demarcating poetry from everything elsefrom novels or from eloquence,-a distinction all have felt, and none clearly explained. Coleridge is everywhere vague
* This has been irrefutably put by a contemporary. "All emotion which has taken possession of the whole being—which flows irresistibly, and therefore equably-instinctively seeks a language that flows equably like itself, and must either find it, or be conscious of an unsatisfied want, which even impedes and prematurely stops the flow of feeling. Hence, ever since man has been man, all deep and sustained feeling has tended to express itself in rhythmical language, and the deeper the feeling, the more characteristic and decided the rhythm, provided always the feeling be sustained as well as deep. For a fit of passion has no natural connexion with verse or music; a mood of passion the strongest."- Westminster Review, April 1838, p. 42.
and unsatisfactory, and can find no other distinction between poetry and novels, than that “poetry permits the production “ of a highly pleasurable whole, of which each part shall also “communicate for itself a distinct and conscious pleasure.” The distinction has however been so ingeniously put by the philosophical critic before quoted, and the passage contains so much note-worthy matter, that we extract it :
“Poetry and eloquence are both alike the expression or uttering forth of feeling. But, if we may be excused the seeming affectation of the antithesis, we should say that eloquence is heard, poetry is over-heard. Eloquence supposes an audience; the peculiarity of poetry appears to us to lie in the poet's utter unconsciousness of a listener. Poetry is feeling confessing itself to itself in moments of solitude, and bodying forth itself in symbols, which are the nearest possible representations of the feeling in the exact shape in which it exists in the poet's mind. Eloquence is feeling pouring itself forth to other minds, courting their sympathy, or endeavouring to influence their belief, or move them to passion or to action*.” The critic thence deduces the reason why the French, who “ are the least poetical of all great and refined nations, are « among the most eloquent; the French also being the most “ sociable, the vainest and the least self-dependent.” But it appears to us that the critic has here fixed his eye solely on the spirit, forgetting the form; he has looked at the creative mind of the artist, not at the work of art; regarding the motive, not the result. We maintain that verse alone, by conditioning the art, is the grand distinction between poetry and every other art.
We have now disposed of the second, or technical part of our definition, and are now in a condition to examine the first part—the beautiful phasis of a religious Idea.
The word “beautiful” itself might challenge a definition, were it not sufficiently intelligible from the context; but "pleasurable” might also be substituted. That the medium of Art must necessarily be the Beautiful, no one doubts; but unfortunately this dictum is not sufficiently applied in criticism, or the Deformed and Disgusting would not so often have been suffered to pass. “The world of art," says Jean Paul, “must be the highest, the most ideal, wherein every pang “ dissolves into a greater pleasure, and where we resemble
* Monthly Repository, vol. vii. p. 64.
“ men on mountain-tops; the storm which bursts heavily “ on the real life and world below, is to us but as a cooling 66 shower. Hence every poem is unpoetical, as every song is 66 unmusical that ends with a discord *.” It is indeed another world, wherein our own is reflected, but idealized; and in its struggles and battles no blood flows from the wounded footsoldier, but celestial ichor from a wounded god. This is triumphantly shown in music
“Yearning like a god in pain.” as Keats so beautifully says, where the most plaintive melodies—strains that move the heart to tears, are still always tempered into rapture by the pervading spirit of beauty. There is a song in the mind of every true poet which likewise tempers his painful thoughts; and the great poet is nowhere more recognisable than in this song, which gives him free movement in the absurdly called “shackles” of verse. Whereever you discern the “shackles," you may be sure the mind is a captive, and no golden eagle “wantoning in the smile of Jove." You discern the shackles by the “fillings up,” by the irrelevancies introduced for the sake of a rhyme, etc.
If this be admitted, it strikes at the root of Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction, since the condition imposed of a beautiful medium, requires that the diction be not “the ordinary language of mankind," but a language fitted to the ideal mouths it issues from; and this must not be done alone by figurative, passionate, or personified phrases, but by an abstraction of all mean and ludicrous words. Certain associations cling round certain words, and the poet must comply with these ; if they be ridiculous he must avoid them, because the reader cannot escape the unlucky associations. Suppose a version of the Iliad opening thus
“ John Thompson's wrath to us the direful spring." Or the Orlando Furioso 'thus
“The Wilsons, Smiths, the Wigginses and Browns.” Yet this is scarcely an exaggeration on a sonnet of Wordsworth’s, commencing
“Spade with which Wilkinson has tilld his land !”
* Vorschule der Æsthetik, b. i. And Shelley, “ Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted."-Defence of Poetry.
Now we defy the reader to be pleasurably moved by Wilkinson; the name is a name “comme un autre," and no doubt denotes many a respectable family, but the gods have not decreed it poetical; on the contrary, its abundant use by comic writers, coupled to its oddity as a sound, have consecrated it to fun, and not to poetry-sonnets least of all. Wilkinson is, therefore, a violation of the ideal. “Achilles' wrath” does very well. Achilles is an ideal personage, of whom, had we previously known nothing, we might predicate what greatness we pleased; but “John Thompson” is the name of our butcher, or who sat next to us in the pit last night, or sent a begging-letter-how can the name denote ideal character? It is useless arguing the point with the public: Harry Gill and Betty Foy do excite the ludicrous, and destroy all impression of poetry. Wordsworth is so insensible to this, or so obstinate in his theory, that he mingles risibilities and puerilities with magnificent and intense poetry.
We have now to consider it in the light of one phasis of a religious Idea.
No nation hitherto known has been without its poetry; but then does this potent universality indicate nothing? has poetry had no other end than the one actually allegedamusement? or is it true, as is often said, that “the arts “spring from the natural propensities of mankind, and fill “ up the idle hour of the savage as well as that of the more “ luxurious civilized nation?” This opinion, which could only have arisen in the mind of a dry logician, degrades Art to a mere doll and fancy-fair production ; but fortunately the logic is as false as it is degrading. It is a confusion of means with an end. “ The pleasure that the organ receives," says Quatremère de Quincey, “is indeed one of the ends of art, since, “if that pleasure did not exist, the action of the art itself “would be as if it were not. But that such can be its true “ end, is one of the errors arising from ignorance and thought“ lessness; as well might it be maintained that the pleasure “ derived from eating is the end of that want, while it is surely “nothing more than a means of attaining another pleasure, “ that of health, strength and the use of our faculties. The “ pleasure is a means which nature herself has placed as an
VOL. XIII.-1°. xxv.
6 incentive to those appetites, that lead the way to the ac“ complishment of all her designs*."
The opinion often advocated in Germany and France, of “ Art for Art's sake," of Art's knowing no end beyond itself, is a little better, but we think equally incorrect, and equally confounding means with an end; for in looking narrowly at the history of poetry, we find everywhere one determinate element and condition, which we hold to be the soul of Art, and this is its religious Idea. Every poet stands at the head of his age at once its child and prophet; and the psalm which breaks solemnly from him, however varied by the music of his feelings, ever retains the one burthen-elevation of the race he addresses into a higher sphere of thought.
" The muse," says Sir Walter Scott, “records, in the lays “ of inspiration, the history, the laws, the very religion of “ savages. Hence there has hardly been found any nation so “ brutishly rude as not to listen with enthusiasm to the songs “ of their bards, recounting the exploits of their forefathers, “ recording their laws and moral precepts, and hymning “ the praises of their deitiest.” Be it observed, that so far from poetry being the mirror of ideas eternally true," it must, on the contrary, ever be the mirror of truths of periods, because the poet cannot but see through the medium of his age, cannot see much beyond it, but must inevitably, if he would get a hearing, utter its spirit and wisdom in their highest point. What is truth ? how is it to be stamped with eternity ? where is its criterion ? The truth of today is the doubt of tomorrow; how then can the poet get at this eternal truth? That which alone is eternally true to human cognizance is human passion, and this is the evergreen of poetry. The wild war-song of the savage is undoubtedly poetry; and although the barbarity, cunning and ferocity it praises and inculcates are, to an advanced civilization, very revolting, they are to the savage the highest wisdom. “ Celebrare res præ“ clare gestas ac virorum fortium virtutes antiqua fuit Arabi“ bus consuetudo. Neque est ullum poëseos genus utilius : “ nihil enim est præstabilius quam animum ad virtutes im
* On Imitation in the Fine Arts, Transl., p. 180. + Introduction to Border Minstrelsy,