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PROSPECTIVE LETTER CONCERNING POETRY.
MR CHRISTOPHER NORTH, present, be read with more satisfaction MEANING to address to you some in a poem or a novel, than seen repreremarks, I shall say for the present sented upon the stage. For, when we that I am a young poet wishing to dis- commune with the heart, it is best tinguish, by new literary exploits, the done in private, and in a state of perreign of George the Fourth. You must fect liberty from the multitude. The remember that all the celebrated bards stage is the fit place for buffoonery, of the present time have come out un- for music, for all the arts of grimace, der George the Third ; but I must and the display of personal situation. turn over a new leaf; and my present But it will scarcely, at present, be perplexity arises from the difficulty of found the place for what is most seriascertaining what department will be ous and true in poetry. Some poets the best for genius to exert itself in. have lately been heard complimenting Looking round, I find the external at- each other in dramatic talent, and mosphere filled with scattered pheno- pressing and imploring each other to mena, betokening past commotions. write tragedies; but if this had been But many clouds of delusion are dri- the time, and if nature had prompted ving away, and retreating far behind them, they probably would have done us. The atmosphere seems no longer so before now. Most to be desired are the same as when it was weighed down the productions of bold, inventive, and and rendered heavy by the powerful inquisitive genius, untrammelled by bad angel Napoleon. Lest, however, subjection to any particular form or you should think there may be more extrinsic purpose. “For enlarging the words than meaning in these meta- mind, there can even be nothing beta phors, I shall proceed to speak of my ter than the exercises of mere fancy; doubts, Mr Christopher, opening them for in works of fancy, the laws of comto you in a confidential manner. But, bination cannot be drawn from clumsy in the first place, I throw aside all use- experience, or from an adherence to less and narrow-minded fears of the the probability of events. Therefore, materials of poetry being exhausted, in making them, there is no guide but for every new generation being placed intellect, taste, and the strong feeling in different circumstances, is made to of what is agreeable in the transifeel what requires to be differently ex- tions of thought and conception. In pressed. Poetry may be said to be ex- the same manner that in a piece of inhausted historically, and also in the strumental music, which neither exnatural or descriptive departments. presses the situation or passion of any The books of Homer, Lucretius, and person, there is no guide but a knowso forth, remain from age to age, and ledge of the relations of the different do not require to be succeeded by other keys, and abstract taste in choosing productions; but the kind of poetry the means of modulating through which each generation is fitted to pro- them. duce successively, consists of the ex- Fearing, however, that these genepression of problems of feeling which ral remarks may sound vague and un, occur to itself, according as external satisfactory, I shall proceed to somecircumstances, or the 'progress of re- thing more particular. I have said flection, throw the mind into new po- already that I am a young poet, yet I sitions. We must look towards that am still doubtful whether to write in kind which is inquisitive and philoso- verse or prose. In the English lanphical, and more intent upon exem- guage,
there is not much gained as to plifying the general truths of feeling harmony, or the delight of the ear,
by than upon causing a blind syinpathy. writing verse. It is a mistake to supIt is most likely that no good drama- pose that the final purpose of rhyme tic pieces will be written unless upon is the correspondence of sounds, for a new plan. When minds of strong the real use of the recurrence of rhyme feeling become reflective and deli- is to mark the place which terminates berative, their disposition will not ac- a certain number of syllables. Thus cord with those dramas which require rhyme, occurring at the end of each an unreflecting surrender of personal eight or ten, strikes the ear, and makes sympathy to moving events. And any the regularity of the intermediate thing very profound or true would, at quantities perceptible. But as some
lines are read faster and others slow. having one clear or fixed idea, or of er, it is evident that such verse is re- recollecting what it was doing six gular only in the number of syllables, weeks before and does not attain to a musical regularity of quantity, in which every line
Laborious, heavy, busy, bold, and blind, would occupy precisely the same time.
It rules, in native anarchy, the mind. This lessens my esteem for verse. Ne- If the world had obstinacy or persevertheless, in many sorts of composi- verance in any thing, it would be an tion, it is still worth while to write in unruly force ; but happily it partakes verse, for the pleasure it gives, as well of “ semper varia et mutabilis” of the as for the form's sake. The Italian female nature, and its tendencies have stanza is coming into fashion, but has the same steadiness as the tumbling of this fault, that, for the number of a wave, or the succession of thoughts rhymes, it requires so much straining in a sick man's dream. It is not, thereand misplacing of words as to be in- fore, made to be obeyed by those who jurious to correctness. This sextuple seek for certainty or real good in any rudder of thought does best for those department of intellectual cultivation. who, in sailing, trust more to the wind Next to be spoken of is the mode of than to the compass. If I were to write treating a subject. On this subject I a tragedy for private perusal, and not feel not many doubts, being convinced for the stage, I think it would be best that all large and formal plans are as a to take a certain kind of verse which snare to the poet, and bring him into resembles the French Alexandrine, saying feeble, false, or unseasonable namely, the rhyming couplet of twelve things, which do not come either from syllables. This is a fine sounding mea- his own genius or from the subject: sure,
full of declamatory pomp and The best plan is that which results emphasis, and well fitted for convey- immediately from the nature of the ing the groans of a labouring bosom. theme, and terminates with it. EleMonotony is no fault in verse, if the gance of form, and pure and perfect meaning be good and full; for the arrangement, give but small delight very monotony of verse implies its re- in poetry, compared with what they gularity of measure--one of the great give in music and painting. Poetry est perfections. I am tired of the must be more versant in the interests blank verse of ten syllables in trage- of the human affections. dies; and poets, by adopting a new Of all the poets who write at premeasure, should get quit of the old sent, the freest in expressing his spiritless thoughts connected with thoughts in any way they occur to this.
him, is Lord Byron.
The freest inHaving thus expressed the difficulty ventor of fictions is Sir Walter Scott ; which a poetical mind finds in chu- but they are expressive only of human sing between verse and prose, I shall character, and not of opinion, which next speak of the choice of themes for has little connection with the active poetry. Here the worst error lies in energy of the olden time. Words. subjection to the opinion of the pub- worth's genius does not tend much lic, and a wish to light upon some towards the delights of fiction. Being subject that will be sure of immediate- more fit for meditative self-examinaly arresting its attention. Whoever tion, his thoughts are always called in seeks to enlarge the boundaries of from inventive flights by an anxiouz poetry must proceed upon more digni. wish to separate truth from falsehood. fied principles, and turn disinterest. But his mode of writing is sometimes edly towards those subjecta his mind not entirely freed from something like most strongly draws him to inquire a puritanical grudge, making him wish into. That which is built immediate- still to retain a stern self-respect, ly upon the temporary state of popu- and to take too much pleasure in his lar opinion produces its strongest ef- own modes of action. One would think fect at the first moment it is brought it would only be necessary for him to into contact with the public, but di- look at those vulgar religionists, who minishes in power ever after, till it are just, chiefly, for the sake of being comes to appear empty and unmean- proud, and who, although they obey ing. Such has been the fate of Lallah the law, are destitute of all feeling of Rookh, for instance, and will be of the beauty of abstract relations; sợ all poems that follow after public
opi- that they would wish almost to stop nion, which never yet was capable of at the virtue of mere faith, which is
ikane compatible with every sort of mental in any
former poem. He leans entirely es dig deformity. But I do not throw out towards natural passions and affections,
these reflections with an intention to as opposed to the mind's subjection apply them to Wordsworth. His fault to the ideal ; and, consequently, his is not that he participates in such most general and absolute sentiment
vices, but that he does not keep suffi- is that of universal relationship with Beyky ciently far from the region where they nature, and of the community of subwouls exist. It may be said in his defence, stances—a “ thorny" creed. In the Fitnes that to accomplish what he has done, exercises of fancy, (in which his lordSic it required, besides sensibility, also ship excels,) he seeks most for a rapid de este personal resolution and rigidity of will change of colours, and for bold oppo
persevere, in defiance of what was sitions. The narration of the first ine of the passing around him. If Wordsworth trigue in Don Juan produces a strong Es molt is sometimes harsh, Milton was sourer
sensation. Nevertheless, the succesin the tendency of his sentiments, and sive narrations of amours would re
his mind never softened at all into quire to ditpinish in warmth, and to caliu passive love, which sometimes appears, increase in philosophical reflections
in Wordsworth's poetry, with all the upon the ultimate results of passion, mais sobre graces of true humility and gentle and its various depths ; and this, pergood-will
. The nature of Words- haps, is the design of Don Juan, which These worth’s poetical pursuits must always his lordship promises is to be a moral
have hindered him from a wandering poem.
NOTICES OF OLD ENGLISH COMEDIES.
their appearance in the former num- have therefore been induced to comi bers of our work, our readers will ob- mence a new series, with reference to tendo serve the design has been confined this particular object, in which we cind exclusively to plays of tragic interest purpose to bring a few of these pro
and complexion.' We have not yet ductions before the view of our read-
ma must be recreated and refreshed. With the faculty of opening the
scenes of humour none can esti- sluices of the heart, and awaking the hita mate more highly than we do; and most sacred sympathies of our being, all the were it not for those absorbing excel
our early dramatists possessed in an lencies we have before alluded to, we equal degree that keen consciousness aze satisfied their claim to attention of the ridiculous, and graphical force of
delineation, which are required for the the number of our elder dramatists, itin production of characters and situations a large proportion were at once writik of humour. The same natural and ters of comedies and tragedies, and exi intuitive feeling which led them to in each line unquestionably and paracomprehend and fathom the graver mountly successful. We do not herė 23 enotions and higher mysteries of our speak of those plays which are comkind, was never wanting when the pounded partly of ludicrous and partobject was to discern, analyze, and ly of tragic scenes,-such as the hisseize hold of the laughter-raising an- tories of Shakespeare,—but of comexieties, strifes, passions, and humours dies and tragedies, properly so called, ak of common life. Nature, in short, lay in which this chequer-work was not before them; and whether their incli- admitted. Middleton, Rowley, Chapnation prompted them to call up tears man, Heywood, Marston, and Webor smiles, to harrow the soul with ster, with many others, might be terror, or expand it with lofty and ge- named, amongst these double function- ka nerous ebullitions of feeling—to strike aries of the drama. In none is this upon the common and catholic sensi- exertion of power more remarkable bilities of which none are devoid, or to than in Webster.--Who could possibly som give to the heart new workings, aspi- conceive or imagine the shadowy and a rations, and fashionings-or, lastly, to awful pencil which delineated the lo entertain, by the ludicrous or comic death of the Duchess of Malfy, in exhibitions of our species, their suc- scenes which terror has steeped with Szilin cess was ever great, triumphant, and its darkest colouring, could ever, quit- en prevailing. Indeed it was impossible ting the province of clouds and tem they should not be equally potent in pests in which its master sat enthro- idad the lighter as well as the more serious ned, the very yeợsa nyepeta Zeus of the trick representations of life, since almost all drama, descend to embody forth the the qualities of mind which minister- lighter and lowlier scenes of comedy? ed to the one were, as the drama then Yet this we see it has done, and in a stood, accessory to the development of manner which demonstrates it to have the other. Besides, their comprehen- been an easy and uninforced attempt. Ti siveness of observation was too exten- To attribute this to versatility of talent sive, their outpouring of faculty too is ridiculous. It had a much deeper great, to take in only one department root. It was the result of a connexion of the mighty theatre which lies open between the two orders and characters for scenical imitation. Like the Ro- of composition. It shews that tragedy man epicures, they put the whole was then pitched in a proper key, world in contribution to furnish the that it had not then forsook the lanmagnificence of their táble. Human guage of common life,—that it had life, not in its fragments, not in its not then interposed a deep gulph befractured parts, not in its separated tween itself and comedy. It shows, portions of hill, dale, champain, or that a secret and invisible line of comvalley, but in its whole chequered and munication was then subsisting bevariegated vastness, was the vision it tween them, wbich, while it served as was permitted them to contemplate. a connecting chain to both, was the The veil of the temple, if our reve- link which bound both to nature. 11 rence can permit us to make use of the manifests that no divorce had ther expression, was rent in twain; and taken place, or destroyed that salutary thus, with them, those twin-sovereigns, connexion, from which, as neighbour. Tragedy and Comedy, which in other ing trees from the intertwining of thei times, and with other nations, have roots, each gathered strength. Thi. risen to life and sunk into extinguish- connexion was indeed the very essenc ment singly and unallied, with them and soul of both. Without it, ou burst forth into existence at once, and ancient drama could not have subsist pursued their way, not diversely and ed, and without it, perhaps, no moderi apart, but walked together hand in national drama can subsist. As lon hand, prosecuting their various but as they are united by the mutual tie not irreconcileable functions, and ma- of relationship, tragedy will be check nifesting at once the approximation of ed in its aberrations from life and na their natures, and the nearness of ture by its less ambitious neighbour their relationship.
which will, in its turn, borrow dignit Accordingly we find, that amongst from tragedy ; but as soon as these ar
tam severed, the former will evaporate in their partnerships of fame. Even surly on bombast, and the latter degenerate Ben, self-relying and jealous as he this into farce. So the event has proved. was, we see did not scruple to enter
When, by the introduction of stiff into alliances of this kind, and, besides
modes of criticism, and superinduced the present instance, has written in de insensibility of feeling, the nice and conjunction with Middleton and Fletmax: delicate medium of connexion between cher. This is a pleasing indication of
these twin powers was lost, then im- a common interest, a heartening spiud mediately departed the excellence of rit, in the literature of the time, which
our drama, and thenceforward we meet was sufficient to raise and dignify the cir no more with those touches of nature, drama of any country. Yet it is pain
strokes of feeling, bursts of passion, ful to remark, that Marston, who, and electrifying energies of expression, in the comedy before us, is the coad
which abound in our early tragic jutor of Ben Jonson, was, within a het scenes ; and, in their stead, we have short time after the writing of it, one
little else but frothy declamation, and of the most violent of his enemies ; cold extravagance. Comedy also has so short and insecure is the continu
lost its sterling dignity, and degene- ance of literary friendships. studio rated first into witty licentiousness, and The present play is one of the many
next into farcical buffoonery and com- of which city manners are the subject. le mon-place. The comedies of the time with most of the comic writers of the
of Vanburgh and Congreve are as little time, they were a favourite theme. The Het worthy of being compared to the sub- prosperous reign of Elizabeth, and the de stantially excellent productions of peaceful one of James, gave full op
Fletcher and Ben Jonson, as any of portunity for industry and persevethe tawdry and despicable perform- rance to rise to wealth; and commerce ances of the present day. The sickly multiplied the means and enlarged the mixture of sentiment and farce, by resources. Luxury, and extravagance which the latter are characterized, is the attendant of luxury, marched forabsolutely insufferable, after perusing ward with rapid strides, and stocked
The Alchymist, and the metropolis daily with fresh tempta'Every Man in his Humour.' In them, tions for the prodigal and the unexpeand in the comedies of their time, all rienced. Attracted by these allurethe strong and healthy lineaments of ments, the landed inheritors left the dramatic excellence are manifest and country for the town and the court, prominent; there is nothing ricketty and frequently launched into extravaor unfashioned in their make, and gancies which their purses were unable little extravagant or out of place in to support, while their hospitable firetheir situations ; they have wit, as it sides were deserted; and what had is regulated by nature, and sentiment, been the abiding place of their foreas it is controuled by truth.
fathers, was left comfortless and bare. But these considerations are out of Thus many, ancient families were rethe
compass of our design, and we duced to beggary. On the ruins of these will drop them. The play which we sprung up the race of opulent citizens have taken, as the first subject of our and shopkeepers; and gradually inspecimens, is the joint production of creasing in importance, began to shoulBen Jonson, Chapman, and Marston. der out the better educated and better Perhaps it is not one of the most ex- bred gentlemen of the day. Every cellent of our early comedies, yet is method which money could supply of unquestionably, even as a picture of hiding the original obscurity of birth ancient city manners, an interesting and family was resorted to '; and the piece of writing. Our reverence, how- degree of knighthood, which the hand ever, for the former of those writers of James, ever poor in purse and prohas chiefly induced us to give it an digal in honours, extended to all who examination, and few, we think, can could pay for it, was gladly caught feel indifferent to any thing in which hold of by opulent upstarts as a factiBen Jonson had a part, whilst yet in tious means of gentility. Hence the the vigour of his strength. As the frequent introduction of knights in our joint composition of three eminent old comedies, and particularly in those dramatists, it is still more interesting; of Ben Jonson, as the licensed subjects nothing is more pleasing about the of ridicule. Amongst so many instances, performances of these writers than it is reasonable to suppose that exam.
such plays as