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literary contemporaries. His works are occasionally characterised by such ingenious thoughts, such noble feelings, and such a fervid eloquence, that it is impossible to resist the impression that he was meant for higher tasks than he has yet attempted. His failures, howerer, are to be attributed to very different causes from those assigned by himself. His want of success was not owing to the “ want of cheers," as he quaintly expresses it; but to the self-mistake already alluded to, and to the irregularity and capriciousness of his literary labours. It was not Sir Egerton Brydges in his personal character, but in his character as an author, that the public ever thought of him at all; and it is a great error to suppose that they are prejudiced judges of literary merit. If he had written any thing really worthy of general notice, he would undoubtedly have obtained it. Genius has no occasion to be mute and inglorious in these times. A follower of the Muses has now a much greater chance of over-praise than unjust censure.
Sir Egerton Brydges “ lisped in numbers.” It is a pity that his mind took this turn so early. It were to be wished that young students would direct their attention more frequently to prose, though it is natural enough that they should take in the first instance to a kind of composition apparently so easy, though in reality so difficult. Their ears are captivated with the sweet sound of verse, and their minds are not always sufficiently critical to distinguish words from sense—the leaves from the fruit. Even persons of tolerable sagacity, and who can observe the shallowness of a florid and feeble prose style, are often found to surrender judgment hoodwinked in reading verse, and especially if it be their own. It is astonishing what mere inanities have satisfied the self-conceit of writers of verse, who would have been heartily ashamed of the same emptiness in their prose. So long as the words run smoothly and the rhymes are correct, there is something like an air of completeness and a vague elevation in metrical composition that are exceedingly delusive. There are certain words also the
common property of verse-writers, that often suggest poetical associations for which the reader is more indebted to his own imagination than to the genius of the author. These pretty external ornaments are often worn by a poetaster who is as ignorant of the effect he produces as the unconscious fish that makes its gold and silver scales to glitter in the sunny water. It is the ease with which vulgar writers can put on the costume of the Muse that has brought her spirit into contempt, amongst men who do not sufficiently discriminate between harmonious and pretty verse and genuine poetry. Thus Jeremy Bentham, perceiving how easy it is for people to put common thoughts into correct rhyme, and of what miserable stuff the great mass of verse generally consists, jumped at once to the conclusion, that poetry was a trifling amusement, unfit for grown men, and less useful than the
game pin! He forgot Homer and Shakspeare and Dante and Milton, and recollected only the small fry of small poetasters. But to judge fairly of an art we should not estimate its claims by an exclusive reference to the works of its unsuccessful votaries. The rarity of great poets only proves the difficulty and dignity of their art,--the same also is proved by the glaring ill success of the countless host of verse-writers, who might have attained to perfection in any other human accomplishment with the same zeal and labour. Hayley, a learned, elegant and sensible person, spent nearly half a century in the study and practice of poetry; but amongst his thousands of correct and harmonious verses he has not left us a single line that is breathed upon by the Muse. Nature had denied him that peculiar quality without which no man can produce genuine poetry, however great may be his learning, his industry, his zeal, or his general intellectual power. We should always, therefore, feel some hesitation in encouraging young persons to write verse. It is not to be denied that the practice of versifying is an elegant amusement, and well calculated to familiarize a young student with the language in which he
writes; but there is the serious danger that a fatal facility in the production of verse may lead to a long and unrequited courtship of the Muse, and withhold a man from pursuits that are more profitable and better adapted to his capacity. Nothing is more unfortunate or more to be lamented than such a misdirection of intellect and labour. How many individuals are there who, though contemptible as poets, might have risen to distinction in almost any other walk of life! The world is too apt to judge decidedly of a man's general powers by his failure in some particular department of human knowledge, without a due consideration of his capacity for other studies. Thus a man who has written bad poetry is thought unfit for every thing, and has sunk his reputation for ever. He cannot hope to be regarded as an able man, until people forget that he has committed the sin of rhyme ; and this oblivion he is generally the last to desire or to anticipate. Men who are in reality greatly his inferiors, but who have been more fortunate in hitting upon a congenial and profitable pursuit in life, seem privileged to speak of him with a mixture of pity and contempt. The style in which the most vulgar persons speak of all authors who are not in the very highest rank is justly rebuked in a little collection of " Essays from the French of the Abbot Trublet," a book that well rewards perusal. In the course of some remarks on criticism, this French Essayist thus alludes to the despisers of the lesser literati.
“ The middling sort of writers are common enough in the world of authors; but men capable of making middling writers are very scarce among men in general ; even among those who think they have pretensions to genius and learning.
“A writer of this sort is a person of but moderate genius, compared with men of the first rank ; but is often a considerable one, compared with the greatest part of those that take upon them to judge him with so much pride and severity. Methinks, I could say to this insolent race of men; ah! gentlemen, let me beseech you, do but think of the mischief you do yourselves, by this imperious manner of criticism : these contemptuous airs: this magisterial tone in which you deliver yourselves ! The persons you set so low are infinitely your superiors.”
Sir Egerton commends his own sonnets for their severe simplicity of style, and flatters himself that in this respect he has rightly followed the example of Milton. Milton's style is in keeping with his thoughts. An ornate and effeminate phraseology would have been almost as unsuited to the energy and grandeur of that mighty poet as to the Holy Scriptures, the sublimity of which would be greatly injured by the introduction of flowery epithets and elaborate metaphors from the store-house of modern poetry. It is doubtful whether the plain language of Milton's sonDets would ever be tolerated in the productions of a feebler writer. The simplicity of Milton's style is grand, because it is associated with gigantic power. Poets should choose a subject and a style adapted to their genius. If Moore were to throw away his gems and flowers, and attempt the severer manner of Milton, perhaps his verses would be as worthless as they are now delightful. The nakedness of Milton's Muse is the nakedness of a classical statue.
The sonnets of Sir Egerton Brydges (with one exception) are cold and unpoetical. The thoughts are as prosaic as the style. His sonnet entitled “ Echo and Silence” is so immeasurably superior to all the rest, that it is a proof how much reliance is placed upon his honor that people take his word for it when he claims it as his own. It was for some time attributed to Henry Brooke (author of Gustavus Vasa) until in 1825, Sir Egerton inserted in it his Recollections of Foreign Travel. Southey has said that he knows not any poem in any language more beautifully imaginative. If, as Dr. Johnson said of Gray, in reference to his Elegy, the author had often written thus, it would have been vain to blame and useless to praise him.
ECHO AND SILENCE.
In eddying course when leaves began to fly,
Two sleeping nymphs with wonder mute I spy ;
The classical and accomplished Archdeacon Wrangham has honored this sonnet with a Latin translation. The following reflections on his birth-day, may be given as a fair specimen of Sir Egerton's general style ; and I select this sonnet, because it is immediately followed in his auto-biography by the writer's remark, that he had studiously attempted to imitate the simplicity of Milton, and had adopted the same stern system of the rejection of flowery language.
The sonnet previously quoted (Echo and Silence) is entitled to all the praise it has obtained. It is truly poetical. But as the author never approached its excellence on any other occasion, his readers are compelled to conclude that it was suggested by one of