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-much less prolific of sublime raptures, beatific visions, and lofty enthusiasm. It has suffered, in short, in the common disenchantment; and the same cold spirit which has chased so many lovely illusions from the earth, has dispeopled heaven of half its marvels and its splendours.” - Vol. i. p. 358.
Lord Jeffrey thinks that European literature, in particular, is more likely to be retrograde than progressive, because modern poets and writers lie under the disadvantage of being obliged to avoid plagiarism; and are thus debarred from the use of many natural expressions and images, which are pre-occupied by those who went before them. Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt, seems to be a favourite sentiment with him. The topic figures at great length in some of his reviewals of Sir Walter Scott's poetry; but his views may be summed up in the following extract:
“ The early Greeks had but one task to perform. They were in no danger of comparisons, or imputations of plagiarism; and wrote down whatever struck them as just and impressive, without fear of finding that they had been stealing from a predecessor. The wide world, in short, was before them, unappropriated and unmarked by any preceding footstep; and they took their way, without hesitation, by the most airy heights and sunny vallies ; while those who came after, found it so seamed and crossed with tracks in which they were forbidden to tread, that they were frequently driven to make the most fantastic circuits and abrupt descents to avoid them.”—Vol. i. p. 108.
The danger is surely overrated; and it is almost a proof of inferior abilities, to be very sensitive of it. Profound thinkers, and men of true genius, run no risk of such involuntary plagiarism : if they treat the most common, every-day subject, it acquires in their hands a new and characteristic beauty. No two minds are alike ; each one has a pervading tone which distinguishes it from all others. Whoever, then, works out thoughts for himself in his brain, and expresses them naturally, must needs invest them with somewhat of originality. Perhaps we might say, indeed, that all the originality which can belong to ornamental literature, dwells in the expression of this peculiar tone: since every isolated phrase which a writer makes use of must be already known to his readers, or he would not be understood; and so must the general doctrines which he brings forward in support of his views, or they would not be readily acquiesced in. It is only in the combination of these phrases, and in the application of these general truths, that he can exhibit novelty. And every mind, which works for itself, combines and applies after a fashion of its own. Bat those second or third rate authors, who, instead of taxing their own powers of thought, pick up shreds of reasoning and metaphor from books or conversation, and are content to manufacture them into a patchwork,--are not original, certainly; nor would have been, had they lived before the flood. And originality is equally beyond the reach of those, who, thinking for themselves, have not learned to speak as they think : and therefore do not present on paper a true image of their mind, but exhibit it distorted by affectation, or screwed into a shape which their theories have taught them to fancy most becoming.
It would perhaps not be difficult to exemplify this view from Lord Jeffrey's own style, which is a singular mixture of originality and common-place. He is original when he follows the bent of his own natural disposition; but never, when he strives after that mode of writing, which he had been led by the course of his studies to look upon as preferable. He is admirable when he indulges the lively good-humoured irony, the quiet humour, and the epigrammatic turn of language which characterize his lighter productions. But he emulated the full periods and melodious diction of the old English writers; and whenever he was really determined to excel, these were his models. This is intimated in many passages of the work. After noticing, for instance, the invariable sweetness, which, he says, often gives an air of art and a weariness to the compositions of Washington Irving, he proceeds :
“ It is very ill-natured in us, however, to object to what has given us so much pleasure; for we happen to be very intense and sensitive admirers of those soft harmonies of studied speech in which this author is so apt to indulge himself; and have caught ourselves, oftener than we shall confess, neglecting his excellent matter, to lap ourselves in the liquid music of his periods, -and letting ourselves flow passively down the mellow falls and windings of his soft-flowing sentences, with a delight not inferior to that which we derive from fine versification.”Vol. iv. p. 215.
And in the life of William Penn he says: “the language appears to us to be one of the most beautiful specimens of that soft and mellow English, which, with all its redundancy and cumbrous volume, has to our ears a richer and more pathetic sweetness than the epigrams and apothegms of modern times.” And, throughout, he scarce ever misses an opportunity of sneering at flashes and epigrams, or of eulogizing 'mellowness' or lamenting the absence of it. Swift is not mellow enough for him; and Dryden, who might have restored the old English style, in place of the French brilliancy and point, which was introduced after the Restoration,-is severely blamed
for having preferred the latter. These indications of his taste may perhaps account for much of the redundancy and cumbrous volume,' with which the reader is often wearied in Lord Jeffrey's own compositions. We need not suppose that he actually imitated the old writers whom he praises : still, the tenor of those praises shews very plainly what were his own opinions on the subject of composition; and he would no doubt aim at that mode of writing which he thought the best.
Without instituting any comparison between the abstract merits of the 'epigrammatic' and 'mellow' styles, we hold it to be perfectly clear that that which Lord Jeffrey preferred, was not so well suited to him as the other. The reason is obvious. The mode of composition adopted by those writers whose copiousness Lord J. admires—by Barrow, and Hooker, and Taylor, and Burton-is intimately connected with their mode of reasoning. And this last is such as Lord Jeffrey would have been neither able nor willing to imitate himself assures us, in a passage where he speaks of Bishop Warburton as being
-“the last of our great divines,—the last, perhaps, of any profession, among us, who united profound learning with great powers of understanding, and, along with vast and varied stores of acquired knowledge, possessed energy of mind enough to wield them with ease and activity. The days of the Cudworths and Barrows—the Hookers and Taylors, are long gone by. Among the other divisions of intellectual labour to which the progress of society has given birth, the business of reasoning, and the business of collecting knowledge, have been, in a great measure, put into separate hands. Our scholars are now little else than pedants, and antiquaries, and grammarians,—who have never exercised any faculty but memory; and our reasoners are, for the most part, but slenderly provided with learning; or at any rate make but a slender use of it in their reasonings. Of the two, the reasoners are by far the best off; and upon many subjects have really profited by the separation. Argument from authority is in general the weakest and the most tedious of all arguments ; and learning, we are inclined to believe, has more frequently played the part of a bully than of a fair auxiliary; and been oftener used to frighten people than to convince them, -to dazzle and overawe, rather than to guide and enlighten. A modern writer would not, if he could, reason as Barrow and Cudworth often reason : and every reader, even of Warburton, must have felt that his learning often encumbers rather than assists his progress ; and like shining armour, adds more to his terrors than to his strength.” -Vol. iv. p. 337.
Lord Jeffrey did not perceive, that when the practice of reasoning from authority was discarded, it became impossible to employ the means by which these old writers prevented
their long-winded harmony from growing tedious. Into their flowing and abounding periods there was always introduced a crowd of matter, subsidiary to, or suggested by the subject upon which they were engaged,--and consisting of quotations, or comparisons, or analogies, or other of the various methods in which men take counsel of the past. It often happens, indeed, that those very writers whom we should call wordy and tedious if our attention were monopolized by the main argument, are thought extremely concise by those who consider them, not merely as conducting that argument, but as pouring out, at the same time, the abundance of a well-stored brain. Thus, by constantly giving food to the reader's thought, they ensure an attention fixed enough on his part, and a perusal slow enough, to mark and enjoy the melody of the language. Lord Jeffrey overlooks this circumstance; and, while he conducts his argument at a slow pace like theirs, does not engage his hearers attention with any such by-discourses. Their minds are unencumbered, and have leisure to repine at the slowness of the author's movements, and perpetually to anticipate what he is about to say. This causes them to read much too fast to notice any of the elegant cadences and musical intonations which have been provided for their enjoyment. There are really many such sweet-sounding periods to be met with in these volumes—but unluckily one seldom finds them out. For, in a rapid perusal, it is not so much the ear as the eye that is concerned : and it would be more to the
purpose to provide fine type, than pleasing sounds. The language of eloquence is only effective, in written composition, when the sentiments which it clothes are impressive, and such as the mind dwells
upon. To turn from the author to the critic,—we are disposed to admire the fairness of Lord Jeffrey's opinions in general. It is necessary, indeed, to make allowance, constantly, for much exaggeration both of sentiment and expression. It is a too common fault to mistake exaggeration for emphasis : and perhaps the most admired writers, as well as painters, owe much of their popularity to a height of colouring not to be found in nature. Lord Jeffrey is rather too fond of bright lights and deep shades, and of strong contrasts,-as if he wrote for careless readers, and was afraid that otherwise he should be unable to make an impression on them. Then it is certainly true, that his impartiality has in many instances been unable to overcome personal feelings, and local prejudices. His inveterate antipathy to the Lake Poets' carries him often into injustice. We are not among the implicit admirers of those poets : and fully concur in Lord Jeffrey's complaints of -Coleridge's obscurity, Wordsworth's frequent childishness, and the tediousness and flag of interest which often hangs upon Southey. But they were poets, in the true sense of the word. They have done much for modern poetry, in discarding the elaborate pomp of language with which it was clogged, and in introducing a truer and a deeper love for the beauties of nature, and the simple every-day feelings of men. As far as we can consider them as forming a school of poetry, — possessing common attributes, and distinguished from their predecessors,—we may say that one of their characteristics was, their perceiving, and acting upon the perception, that poetry is not a thing of artifice, but of reality; that it has its prototype in human nature; and that, accordingly, poetical beauty must be sought for in the poet's own heart, not in rules drawn from the practice of his predecessors. If Wordsworth runs into the faults of vulgarity and childishness, there is at least this excuse for him : he has detected, even in the vulgar and the childish, a poetical beauty which springs from the heart, and is capable of touching the hearts of others. Southey, we think, only fails to interest because his sympathies are not, like those of most of his readers, confined to the human race; but he is capable of entering into the feelings of gods and demigods, glendoveers, spirits of the air and the waters—the creatures of his own ardent imagination : and his flight is too airy for common men to follow. For Coleridge's obscurity we are less ready to make excuse. Wilfully to throw darkness over his meaning, is no doubt a grave fault in any writer: to do so involuntarily, marks a confused intellect :-still, we would not place these Lake poets in the highest rank. They want the compression of language, and its cause, the intensity of thought and passion, which belong to genius such as that of Shakspeare or Milton. They can act upon their readers' feelings, but cannot carry them
away. They can produce an enjoyment, analogous to that derived from a fair landscape, not from a grand historical picture, from a pastoral, not a tragedy. They can give pleasure-but not that intensest pleasure, the way to which lies through pain. If it is true that, our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” their songs are not the sweetest.
We are no very ardent admirers of Sir Walter Scott's poetry. Poetry is in its nature so far superior to prose, that the poetry, which was eclipsed by its author's prose writings, could not have been of the highest order. And Scott, with all his unrivalled power over the imagination, exerts, in his poems, very little power over the passions. His readers' minds, indeed, are filled with