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JOMPOSITIONS resembling those of the
present volume are not unfrequently condemned for their querulous egotism.
But egotism is to be condemned then only when it offends against time and place, as in a history or an epic poem. To censure it in a monody or sonnet is almost as absurd as to dislike a circle for being round. Why then write Sonnets or Monodies ? Because they give me pleasure when perhaps nothing else could. After the more violent emotions of sorrow, the mind demands amusement, and can find it in employment alone: but full of its late sufferings, it can endure no employment not in some measure connected with them. Forcibly to turn away our attention to general subjects is a painful and most often an unavailing effort.
“ But O! how grateful to a wounded heart
The tale of misery to impart-
SHAW. The communicativeness of our nature leads us to describe our own sorrows; in the endeavour to de
scribe them, intellectual activity is exerted; and from intellectual activity there results a pleasure, which is gradually associated, and mingles as a corrective, with the painful subject of the description. “True!” (it may be answered) “ but how is the Public interested in your sorrows or your description ?” We are for ever attributing personal unities to imaginary aggregates. What is the Public, but a term for a number of scattered individuals ? Of whom as many will be interested in these sorrows, as have experienced the same or similar.
“ Holy be the lay Which mourning soothes the mourner on his way.” If I could judge of others by myself, I should not hesitate to affirm, that the most interesting passages in all writings are those in which the author developes his own feelings? The sweet voice of Cona* never sounds so sweetly, as when it speaks of itself ; and I should almost suspect that man of an unkindly heart who could read the opening of the third book of the Paradise Lost without peculiar emotion. By a law of our nature, he, who labours under a strong feeling, is impelled to seek for sympathy; but a poet's feelings are all strong. Quicquid amet valde amat. Akenside therefore speaks with philosophical accuracy when he classes Love and Poetry, as producing the same effects : “ Love and the wish of Poets when their tongue Would teach to others' bosoms, what so charms Their own."
Pleasures of Imagination. There is one species of egotism which is truly disgusting; not that which leads us to communicate
our feelings to others, but that which would reduce the feelings of others to an identity with our own. The atheist, who exclaims, “pshaw !” when he glances his eye on the praises of Deity, is an egotist: an old man, when he speaks contemptuously of Loveverses, is an egotist : and the sleek favourites of fortune are egotists, when they condemn all “ melancholy, discontented” verses. Surely it would be candid not merely to ask whether the poem pleases ourselves, but to consider whether or no there may not be others, to whom it is well calculated to give an innocent pleasure.
I shall only add, that each of my readers will, I hope, remember, that these poems on various subjects, which he reads at one time and under the influence of one set of feelings, were written at different times and prompted by very different feelings; and therefore that the supposed inferiority of one poem to another may sometimes be owing to the temper of mind, in which he happens to peruse it.
My poems have been rightly charged with a profusion of double-epithets, and a general turgidness. I have pruned the double epithets with no sparing hand; and used my best efforts to tame the swell and glitter both of thought and diction.* This lat
Without any feeling of anger, I may yet be allowed to express some degree of surprise, that after having run the critical gauntlet for a certain class of faults, which I had, viz. a too ornate, and elaborately poetic diction, and nothing having come before the judgment-seat of the Reviewers during the long interval, I should for at least seventeen years, quarter after quarter, have been placed by them in the foremost rank of the proscribed, and made to abide the brunt of abuse and ridicule for faults directly opposite, viz. bald and
ter fault however had insinuated itself into my Religious Musings with such intricacy of union, that sometimes I have omitted to disentangle the weed from the fear of snapping the flower. A third and heavier accusation has been brought against me, that of obscurity; but not, I think, with equal justice. An author is obscure, when his conceptions are dim and imperfect, and his language incorrect, or inappropriate, or involved. A poem that abounds in allusions, like the Bard of Gray, or one that impersonates high and abstract truths, like Collins's Ode on the poetical character, claims not to be popular—but should be acquitted of obscurity. The deficiency is in the reader. But this is a charge which every poet, whose imagination is warm and rapid, must expect from his contemporaries. Milton did not escape it; and it was adduced with virulence against Gray and Collins. We now hear no more of it: not that their poems are better understood at present, than they were at their first publication ; but their fame is established ; and a critic would accuse himself of frigidity or inattention, who should profess not to understand them. But a living writer is yet sub judice; and if we cannot follow his conceptions or enter into his feelings, it is more consoling to our pride to consider him as lost beneath, than as soaring above us. If any man expect from my poems the same easiness of style which he admires in a drinking-song, for him I have not written. Intelligibilia, non intellectum adfero. prosaic language, and an affected simplicity both of matter and manner-faults which assuredly did not enter into the character of my compositions.
Literary Life, i. 51. Published 1817.