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are exceedingly dissimilar in those respects wherein each is most excellent), that the great national events of their day have had no small influence in training their genius, leading them to the choice of subjects, and modifying their style. So far, then, these circumstances have been sources of inspiration ; but there is a drawback with regard to each, that, yielding to the impatient temper of the times in their eager pursuit of fame, they have occasionally aimed at the temple on the mountain-top, not by the slow, painful, and laborious paths which their immortal predecessors trod, and which all must tread who would be sure of gaining the eminence, and keeping their station when they have gained it,--but they have rather striven to scale the heights by leaping from rock to rock up the most precipitous side, forcing their passage through the impenetrable forests that engirdle it, or plunging across the headlong torrents that descend in various windings from their fountains at the peak. Thus they have endeavoured to attract attention and excite astonishment, rather by prodigious acts of spontaneous exertion, than to display gradually, and eventually to the utmost advantage, the well directed and perfectly concentrated force of their talents. In a word, it may be doubted whether one of the living five (for Byron is now beyond the reach of warning) has ever yet done his very best in a single effort worthy of himself (I mean in their longer works), by sacrificing all his merely good, middling, and inferior thoughts, which he has in common with everybody else, and appearing solely in his peculiar character,-that character of excellence, whatever it may be, wherein he is distinct from all the living and all the dead; the personal identity of his genius shining only where he can outshine all rivals, or where he can shine alone when rivalry is excluded. Till each of the survivors has done this, it can hardly be affirmed that he has secured the immortality of one of his great intellectual offspring: there is a vulnerable part of each, which Death with his dart, or Time with his scythe, may sooner or later strike down to oblivion.*
The unprecedented sale of the poetical works of Scott and Byron, with the moderate success of others, proves that a great change had taken place both in the character of authors and in the taste of readers, within forty years. About the beginning of the French revolution scarcely any thing in rhyme, except the ludicrous eccentricities of Peter Pindar, would take with the public: a few years afterward, booksellers ventured to speculate in quarto volumes of verse, at from five shillings to a guinea a line, and in various instances were abundantly recompensed for their liberality. There are fifty living poets (among whom it must not be forgotten, that not a few are of the better sex-I may single out four; Miss. Joanna Baillie, Mrs. Hemans, Miss Mitford, and L. E. L.) whose labours have proved profitable to themselves in a pecuniary way, and fame in proportion has followed the more substantial reward. This may appear a degrading standard by which to measure the genius of writers and the intelligence of readers, but, in a commercial country at least, it is an equitable one; for no man in his right mind can suppose that such a rise in the market demand could have taken place, unless the commodity itself had become more precious or more rare, or the taste of the public for that kind of literature had been exceed. ingly improved. Now poetry, instead of being more rare, was tenfold more abundant when it was most in request; it follows, therefore, that the demand was occasioned by a change equally creditable to the superior talents of those who furnished, and the superior information of those who consumed, the supply.
* In reading the foregoing passage at the Royal and London Institetions, the author distinctly remarked, that as he could not be supposed to speak invidiously of any one of the great poets impricated in the qualified censure, he did not think any other apology necessary either to thesselves or their admirers there present, except that, deeming such censure applicable to contemporaries in general, he had named those only who could not be injured in their established reputation, or their houourable feelings, by the fraukness of friendly criticism; and who could therefore afford to be told of faults which they had, in a small degree, in common with a multitude of their inferiors, who have the samne in a much higher.
The market, however, has much fallen within these last ten years, and the richest dealer long ago invested his capital in other funds, much to his own emolument and the satisfaction of more customers than any author living besides himself can boast. Lord Byron did worse; but I am not the judge of his morality here. I shall only remark upon him in his literary character, that had he always selected materials for his verse (Milton uniformly did his best) equal to the power which he could exercise upon them, his themes would never have been inferior to the loftiest and finest which he adorned in that golden era of his genius between the publication of the first and the fourth cantos of Childe Harold, which era, I believe, comprehends all his masterpieces; nor would his execution ever have fallen below that which, by a few touches, could strike out images of thought equal to Pygmalion's statue in beauty; while, with a breath, he could give them an earthly immortality, and by a destiny which no revolution in language or empire can reverse, send them forth to people the minds of millions of admiring readers in all ages to come.
He might have done this, almost infallibly, in every instance in which he condescended to put forth the whole strength of his intellect, and lavish upon the creation of an exuberant fancy all the riches of a poetical diction, unrivalled among contemporaries, and unexcelled by any of his predeces
Yet no modern author who can lay claim to the highest honours of Parnassus has written a greater quantity of perishable, perishing rhyme, than the noblest of them all.
In this sketch it is not necessary to expatiate on the particular merits of any other class of poets, these
two masters of the lyre having been more followed than the rest, not only by the servile herd of imitators, but by many men of real talent, who had strength and stock enough of their own to have come out in their original characters, and spoken in their own language. The consequence has been just as it ought to be: there is not one copyist of either Sir Walter Scott or Lord Byron who is popular at this hour; and it may be safely foretold, that not one production resembling theirs, which is not theirs, will last thirty years. There is a small but peculiar class of versifiers, which deserves a word of notice here, if it be but a word of reprobation. The leaders of this select band of poetasters are men of some fancy, a little learning, iess taste, and almost no feel. ing. They have invented a manner of writing and thinking frigidly artificial, while affecting to be neg. ligently natural, though no more resembling nature than the flowers represented in shell-work on lackered grounds, and framed in glass cases by our grandmothers, resembled the roses and carnations which they caricatured. They think, if they think at all, like people of the nineteenth century (for certainly nobody ever thought like them before), but they write in the verbiage of the sixteenth, and then imagine that they rival the poets of Elizabeth's reign, because they mimic all that is obsolete in them, which in fact is only preserved in Spenser and Shakspeare themselves, because it is inseparably united with what can never become obsolete,
thoughts that breathe and words that burn,” not less intelligible at this day than when they were first uttered. It might be shown that the finest passages in our ancient writers are those in which the phraseology has never become antiquated, nor ever can be so till the English shall be a dead language. This school must pass away with the present generation, as surely as did the Della Cruscan of the last century.
Is it not remarkable, while we are rich beyond precedent in every other species of elegant literature, that in the drama we should be poor even to pauperism, if that term in its technical and degrading sense may be so applied ? Not a tragedy that can live on the stage, its own element, beyond the date of a nine days' wonder, has been produced for many years. The phantasmagoria of the Castle Spectre, the magnificent but anomalous Pizarro, the crazy Bertram, are not exceptions, unless they can be shown to be legitimate tragedies, which, by the power of mind over mind alone, obtained not a temporary, but a permanent triumph,-a triumph that must be renewed as often as they are performed. The Stranger, immoral and insidious as it is, long maintained its ground by the aid of consummate acting in its most exceptionable character; but it must be acknowledged by its warmest admirers that the catastrophe is achieved by a coup de main, a trick of pantomime at last, which amounts to a silent confession of failure, that after all the cunning and elaborate preparation to secure success to the interview, the hero and heroine, like Harlequin and Columbine, could only be reconciled in dumb-show! The Gordian knot of the delicate dilemma is cut, not disentangled; and the imagination of the most enraptured spectator dare not dwell for five minutes behind the curtain after it has fallen upon the scene. The first word uttered by either party there would dissolve the enchantment at once: Mrs. Haller must be Mrs. Haller still, and the Stranger a Stranger for ever. Yet when I name Miss Joanna Baillie, Miss Mitford, Lord Byron, Milman, Sotheby, Sheridan Knowles, and leave my audience to recollect other able writers of tragedy, among our contemporaries there is evidently no lack of great talent for this species of com