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could be more difficult and hazardous, than the attempt to convince authors, or to furnish them with the means of convincing themselves, that they had totally misapprehended their powers, and were unqualified by nature and habits for the pursuits they had chosen? This, you will readily allow, was no very promising task; and after various schemes, successive efforts, and repeated communications on the subject, I began to despair of ever bringing my labours to a successful issue, unless something could be invented, which might decide these nice questions by an appeal to the senses, and exhibit a palpable and unfailing evidence upon the point of dispute.
Poetry has been from childhood my favourite study; and as I acquired a relish for the best productions of that divine art, from the observations of my uncle Geoffrey, a man eminent for the taste and solidity of his criticisms, my first wish was to do honour to my favourite study, by furnishing the community of poets, at present so numerous, with a just criterion whereby they might ascertain the extent of their powers, and discriminate their peculiar tendencies. This project I was upon the verge of abandoning as visionary and impracticable, when I received the enclosed letter from my ingenious friend Tiberius Vosterhusius, whom I had some months since excited to same pursuit. The original is in the German language ; but, for the benefit of a numerous description of society, I mean the poets and poetesses of our island, I beg to present it to you in an English dress.
January, 1792. It is with the most animated satisfaction I inform you that an infallible standard has at length been discovered for the estimate and regulation of poctical genius. The discovery has been celebrated here with unusual rejoicings; the experiments it has given rise to are daily tried with the most certain success; and the results in many instances have occasioned scenes the most laughable and ri. diculous that the imagination can paint. Since the properties of the magnet were revealed, I know not that chance has led the votaries of science to any secret more wonderful in its nature, or important in its effects. In short, Sir, a fluid has been discovered which possesses the surprising quality of showing the precise degree of genius which belongs to any pretender to poetical excellence.
It has at present obtained no better appellation than that of the sympathetic fluid; but I hope, when it is more known, and has been submitted to the inspection of your English societies, it will be honoured with a title more expressive of its merits. The mode of using it is as follows: a certain quantity is poured into a small thermometer ; and this is applied, for a few seconds, to the temporal artery ; the tube is fixed upon a scale marked at certain intervals with the words,
&c. &c. &c. If the fluid rise gradually, and remain fixed and motionless, opposite to either of the titles upon the scale, the experimenter may assure himself that he possesses talents equal to that particular branch of the art. On the contrary, if the liquor ascend with a rapid irregular motion, appear in a state of fermentation, and then fall hastily within the bulb, he cannot show his prudence more, than by acqui
escing in the infallible decisions of his little silent monitor, whose verdict is not to be altered by supplications or bribes. Many chemical experiments have been made by our learned friend Slautenbunkius, upon this unparalleled fluid, but without effect : it hitherto escapes the most delicate analysis ; and its sympathetic property is the only one with which we are at present acquainted.
• You will have pleasure in hearing that a separate establishment is soon to be erected, for a professor and six students, to whom the care of making these inimitable criteria is to be publicly consigned. A statute is also in contemplation, whereby it will be forbidden to any member of this university to compose verses on any subject, without consulting a poetical regulator, duly stamped with the arms of the Academy; and authorized, moreover, by the signature of the above-mentioned professor. I cannot conclude without congratulating you upon the rare merit of this important discovery, and expressing a hope that the enclosed may arrive safe, and meet with your approbation.
N. B. Immediately on the discovery, we found it difficult to prevail on authors to submit to the trial. Our fashionable bards were extremely shy; at length experiments were made by order of the magistracy, upon three poets now under confinement at our public prison ; one convicted of Blasphemy and an Ode to Liberty; another, of writing obscene verses; the third, of stealing a shirt and six pair of silk stocking, besides seducing the affections of his patron's wife.'
"Such is the interesting communication of my worthy correspondent Tiberius. Nothing could be more welcome to me than the arrival of this little magical tube. I cannot describe the emotions into which I was thrown upon taking it into my hands ; and was half wild, till I found a proper subject on whom its effects might be tried. It was not long before an opportunity occurred; for, a few days after the receipt of it, I happened to dine with a certain great patron, whose table is always luxuriously spread before the sons of Apollo, several of whom were then in company. Excellent wines, and mirth, and wit, and song, went round, and at length began to overpower the faculties of many of these enthusiastic votaries, when the thought struck me of having recourse to the criticisms of my pocket companion ; and by occasionally changing my place, I gained an exact scale of the poetical capacities of each.
“ The gentleman on whose temple I first placed my poetemeter, was a poet of considerable fame in high life, having written odes, comedies, tragedies, and a sort of epic poem. I had never read his works; but having seen them in a second edition, thought they might have some merit, and that the gay circle that approved them might not be entirely destitute of true taste. But what was my surprise, when on the application of the tube, the column instantly rose with a very disturbed motion : and having made a momentary pause at each degree in the scale, it sunk with a kind of guggling noise that had nearly awakened the slumbering bard! I continued to hold it in the same position, hoping that the liquor might take a situation more favourable to the author, but in vain : the decision was irreversible, and it refused to ascend.
“I renewed my experiment upon my neighbour
left hand, who, I had been assured by some person, as a kind hint, was a pretender to the laurel, with
very few of the necessary qualifications. From this trial, therefore, I hoped to discover the young poet's real talents, and the truth or injustice with which his brethren had pronounced his secret sentence, As there was something ingenious and spirited in the countenance of this gentleman, that had, during the whole day, conciliated my good will, I was sorry to observe, that, after the application of the tube for a few seconds, no visible alteration took place. I was puzzling to find the cause of this circumstance, when the liquor began to mount upwards with a slow and steady motion ; and, having arrived at the mark Soonet, it there became stationary, and appeared infinitely more bright and transparent than I had ever remarked it. After reposing at this point some time, it gradually ascended to Tragic; at which degree it remained awhile, and then subsided regularly to its former post. From this I inferred that the author's genius qualified him for a higher species of composition; but that he was withheld, by modesty, from the attempt. This decision gave me infinite delight; and I could not help casting a look of indignation and reproof towards those illiberal detractors who had been base enough to derogate from so real and so diffident a genius.
“In the course of the evening I had informed my: self accurately of the poetical powers of every individual present. The verdicts were various, as you may imagine: sometimes the fluid appeared dark and turbid ; at other times it retained its natural colour: and once it became perfectly luminous and bright: it ascended also to different heights, with different degrees of emotion. Of one gentleman it