David Masson





1. Poetics: An Essay on Poetry. By E. S. Dallas. London, 1852.
2. Poems. By Alexander Smith. London, 1853.


SCOTLAND seems to be doing something original at present in the way of literature. Here, at least, we have two new works, each by a young Scottish author, which have already attracted as much attention, after their respective kinds, as it is usual to bestow on first publications of more than ordinary merit. Edinburgh claims the one débutant; Glasgow the other. Mr. Dallas, a young man of thorough academic culture, and an admiring pupil of Sir William Hamilton, applies his native talent and the habits of philosophical investigation he has acquired under his illustrious teacher, to the performance of no less a task than that undertaken of old by Aristotle in one of his treatises, and meddled with by Coleridge and others in modern times – the systematic elaboration and exposition of a Theory of Poetry. "To discover the laws of operative power in literary works," said Dr. Whewell, the other day, "though it claims no small respect under the name of criticism, is not commonly considered the work of a science." Accepting this as true, but regretting that it is so, and maintaining that the very abundance of our critical opinions, and the superior depth of our criticism as compared with that of the previous age, make the want of a system of critical doctrine more felt – Mr. Dallas, with due modesty, offers his work as a contribution towards such a system, in as far as it is an attempt at a science of poetry and of poetic expression. While Edinburgh, in the person of one of her young metaphysicians, is thus philosophizing on poetry, Glasgow accomplishes the more [298] difficult and more welcome feat of sending forth a poet. Verses signed with the unpromising name of Alexander Smith had appeared from time to time in one or two London periodicals; and, on the faith of these verses, generous and discerning critics, led by one who has been nobly the first, not in this case alone, hastened to proclaim the advent of a new poet – not, this time, in Cambridge or in Lincolnshire, but in the city which had given birth to Thomas Campbell. Glasgow was proud to find that, in one of her commercial houses, she had so rare a possession as a young poet; and, what with encouragement at hand and encouragement from a distance, Mr. Smith has ventured to put his claims to the test by publishing the present volume.

We account it part of our duty, as our readers know, to keep an eye open for the signs and appearances of literature in North Britain. In the present instance we come rather late into the field. We have not to introduce either of our young authors to the public. That has been already done by others, and we rather grudge to our English friends the honour of having "discovered" Mr. Smith. The best thing we can do, therefore, after our laggard trimestrial fashion, since we cannot have the credit of introducing either of our young compatriots, is, to invite our friends to a little party, where they shall meet them both. And first for our Scottish theorist on poetry, Mr. Dallas.

There have been hundreds of disquisitions on poetry in all ages – long and short, good, bad, and indifferent; and now-a-days, we cannot open a magazine or a review without finding something new said about our friend "The Poet," as distinguished from our other friend "The Prophet," and the like. But cant cannot be helped, and, if we are to abandon good phrases because they have been used a great many times, there is an end to all reviewing. Much, too, as has been spoken about poetry and poets, we doubt if the world in its lucubrations on this subject, has got far beyond the antithesis suggested by what Aristotle said about it two thousand years ago, on the one hand, and what Bacon advanced two hundred and fifty years ago, on the other. At least, acquainted as we are, with a good deal that Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and Goethe, and Leigh Hunt, and now Mr. Dallas, have written about poetry by way of more subtle and insinuating investigation, we still feel that the best notion of the thing, for any manageable purpose, is to be beaten out of the rough-hewn definitions of it, from opposite sides, supplied by Aristotle and Bacon. In his Poetics, Aristotle writes as follows: –

"Epic poetry and the poetry of tragedy, as well as comedy and dithyrambic poetry, and most flute and lyre music, all are, in their nature, viewed generally, imitations (μιμησεις); differing from each [299] other, however, in three things – either in that they imitate by different means, or in that they imitate different things, or in that they imitate differently and not in the same manner. For, as some artists, either from technical training or from mere habit, imitate various objects by colours and forms, and other artists by vocal sound; so, of the arts mentioned above, all effect their imitation by rhythm, and words, and melody, employed either severally or in combination. For example, in flute and lyre music, and in any other kind of music having similar effect, such as pipe music, melody and rhythm are alone used. In the dance, again, the imitation is accomplished by rhythm by itself, without melody; there being dancers who, by means of rhythmical gesticulations, imitate even manners, passions, and acts. Lastly, epic poetry produces its imitations either by mere articulate words, or by metre superadded...... Since, in the second place, those who imitate copy living characters, it behoves imitations either to be of serious and lofty, or of mean and trivial subjects. The imitation must, in fact, either be of characters and actions better than they are found among ourselves, or worse, or much the same; just as, among painters, Polygnotus represented people better-looking than they were, Pauson worse-looking, and Dionysius exactly as they were. Now, it is evident that each of the arts above-mentioned will have these differences, the difference arising from their imitating different things. In the dance, and in flute and lyre music, these diversities are visible; as also in word-imitations and simple metre. Homer, for example, really made men better than they are: Cleophon made them such as they are; whereas Hegemon, the first writer of parodies, and Nicochares, made them worse. So also in dithyrambics and lyrics, one might, with Timotheus and Philoxenus, imitate even Persians and Cyclopses. By this very difference, too, is tragedy distinguished from comedy. The one even now strives in its imitations to make men better than they are, the other worse...... Still the third difference remains, namely, as to the manner or form of the imitation. For even though the means of imitation, and the things imitated, should be the same, there might be this difference, that the imitation might be made either in the form of a narration, (and that either through an alien narrator, as Homer does, or in one's own person without changing,) or by representing the imitators as all active and taking part. So that, though in one respect Homer and Sophocles would go together as imitators, as both having earnest subjects, in another Sophocles and Aristophanes would go together, as both imitating dramatically...... Two causes, both of them natural, seem to have operated together to originate the poetic art. The first is, that the tendency to imitate is innate in men from childhood, (the difference between man and other animals being that he is the most imitative of all, acquiring even his first lessons in knowledge through imitation,) and that all take pleasure in imitation. Moreover, in the second place, just as the tendency to imitate is natural to us, so also is the love of melody and of rhythm; and metre is evidently a variety of rhythm. Those, therefore, who from the first were most strongly [300] inclined to these things by nature, proceeding by little and little, originated poetry out of their impromptu fancies. Poetry, thus originating, was broken into departments corresponding to the peculiar characters of its producers; the more serious imitating only beautiful actions and their issues, while the more thoughtless natures imitated mean incidents, inventing lampoons, as others had invented hymns and eulogies. Before Homer we have no poem of any kind to be mentioned; though, doubtless, many existed."

Such, as indicated in those sentences of the treatise which seem to be of most essential import, is the general doctrine of Aristotle as to the nature of Poetry. With this contrast Bacon's theory, as stated, cursorily but profoundly, in the following sentences from the Advancement of Learning: –

"The parts of human learning have reference to the three parts of man's understanding, which is the seat of learning – History to his Memory; Poesy to his Imagination; and Philosophy to his Reason..... Poesy is a part of learning, in measure of words for the most part restrained, but in all other points extremely licensed, and doth truly refer to the imagination; which, being not tied to the laws of matter, may at pleasure join that which Nature hath severed, and sever that which Nature hath joined, and so make unlawful matches and divorces of things. Pictoribus atque Poetis, &c. It (Poetry) is taken in two senses – in respect of words, or matter. In the first sense, it is but a character of style, and belongeth to the arts of speech, and is not pertinent for the present; in the latter, it is, as hath been said, one of the principal portions of learning, and is nothing else but feigned history, which may be styled as well in prose as in verse. The use of this feigned history hath been to give some shadow of satisfaction to the mind of man in the points wherein the nature of things doth deny it; the world being in proportion inferior to the soul; by reason whereof there is, agreeable to the spirit of man, a more ample greatness, a more exact goodness, and a more absolute variety than can be found in the nature of things. Therefore, because the acts or events of true history have not that magnitude which satisfieth the mind of man, Poesy feigneth acts and events greater and more heroical; because true history propoundeth the successes and the issues of actions not so agreeable to the merits of virtue and vice, therefore Poesy feigneth them more just in retribution, and more according to revealed Providence; because true history representeth actions and events more ordinary and less interchanged, therefore Poesy endueth them with more rareness, so as it appeareth that Poesy serveth and conferreth to magnanimity, morality, and delectation. And, therefore, it was ever thought to have some participation of divineness, because it doth raise and erect the mind, by submitting the shows of things to the desires of the mind, whereas Reason doth buckle and bow the mind unto the nature of things.... In this third part of learning, which is Poesy, I can report no deficience. For, being as a plant that cometh of the lust of the [301] earth without a formal seed, it hath sprung up and spread abroad more than any other kind."

Now, though it would be possible, we doubt not, so to stretch and comment upon Aristotle's theory of poetry as to make it correspond with this of Bacon's yet, primâ facie, the two theories are different, and even antithetical. If both are true, it is because the theorists tilt at opposite sides of the shield. Aristotle makes the essence of poetry to consist in its being imitative and truthful; Bacon, in its being creative and fantastical. According to Aristotle, there is a natural tendency in men to the imitation of what they see in nature; the various arts are nothing more than imitations, so to speak, with different kinds of imitating substance; and poetry is that art which imitates in articulate language, or, at most, in language elevated and rendered more rich and exquisite by the addition of metre. According to Bacon, on the other hand, there is a natural tendency and a natural prerogative in the mind of man, to condition the universe anew for its own intellectual satisfaction; to brood, as it were, over the sea of actual existences, carrying on the work of creation with these existences for the material, and its own phantasies and longings for the informing spirit; to be ever on the wing among nature's sounds and appearances, not merely for the purpose of observing and co-ordinating them, but also that it may delight itself with new ideal combinations, severing what nature has joined, and joining what nature has put asunder. Poetry, in accordance with this view, might perhaps be defined as the art of producing, by means of articulate language, metrical or unmetrical, a fictitious concrete, this being either like to something existing in nature, or, if unlike anything there existing, justifying that unlikeness by the charm of its own impressiveness.

Amid all the discussions of all the critics as to the nature of poetry, this antagonism, if such it is, between the Aristotelian and the Baconian theory, will be found eternally reproducing itself. When Wordsworth defined poetry to be "emotion recollected in tranquillity," and declared it to be the business of the poet to represent out of real life, and, as nearly as possible, in the language of real life, scenes and events of an affecting or exciting character, he reverted, and with good effect, to the imitation-theory of Aristotle. All Coleridge's disquisitions, on the other hand, even when his friend Wordsworth is the theme and exemplar, are subtle developments of the imagination-theory of Bacon. His famous remark that the true antithesis is not Poetry and Prose, but Poetry and Science, is but another form of Bacon's remark, that whereas it is the part of Reason "to buckle and bow the mind to the nature of things," it is the part [302] of Imagination, as the poetical faculty, "to raise the mind by submitting the shows of things to its desires." And so with the definitions, more or less formal, of other writers. – Thus Leigh Hunt: – "Poetry is the utterance of a passion for truth, beauty, and power, embodying and illustrating its conceptions by imagination and fancy, and modulating its language on the principle of variety in uniformity." That this definition, notwithstanding that it is constructed on the principle of omitting nothing that any one would like to see included, is yet essentially a glimpse from the Baconian side of the shield, is obvious from the fact that its author afterwards uses as synonymous with it the abbreviations "Imaginative passion," "Passion for imaginative pleasure." – Lastly, Mr. Dallas, with all his ingenuity, does not really get much farther in the end. Beginning with an expression of dissatisfaction with all existing definitions of poetry, Aristotle's and Bacon's included, as being definitions of the thing not in itself, but in its accidents, he proceeds first, very properly, to make a distinction between poetical feeling, which all men have, and the art of poetical expression, which is the prerogative of those who are called poets. Both are usually included under the term Poetry; but to avoid confusion, Mr. Dallas proposes to use the general term Poetry for the poetical feeling, and to call the art which caters for that feeling Poesy. Then, taking for his clue the fact that all have agreed that, whatever poetry is, it has pleasure for its end, he seeks to work his way to the required definition through a prior analysis of the nature of pleasure. Having, as the result of this analysis, defined pleasure to be "the harmonious and unconscious activity of the soul," he finds his way then clear. For there are various kinds of pleasure, and poetry is one of these – it is "imaginative pleasure;" or, writing the thing more fully out, it is the "imaginative harmonious and unconscious activity of the soul," or that kind of harmonious and unconscious activity of the soul which consists in the exercise of the imagination. Poesy, of course, is the corresponding art, the art of producing what will give imaginative pleasure. Now, with all our respect for the ability with which Mr. Dallas conducts his investigation, and our relish for the many lucid and deep remarks which drop from his pen in the course of it, we must say that, as respects the main matter in discussion, his investigation does not leave us much the wiser. "Poetry is imaginative pleasure" – very well; but Bacon had said substantially the same thing when he described poetry as a part of learning having reference to the imagination; and Leigh Hunt had, as we have seen, anticipated the exact phrase, defining poetry to be "imaginative passion," and the faculty of the poet to be the faculty of "producing imaginative pleasure." In [303] short, the whole difficulty, the very essence of the question, consists not in the word pleasure, but in the word imaginative. Had Mr. Dallas bestowed one-half the pains on the illustration of what is meant by imagination, that he has bestowed on the analysis of what is meant by pleasure, he would have done the science of poetry more service. This – the nature of the imaginative faculty – is "the vaporous drop profound that hangs upon the corner of the moon," and Mr. Dallas has not even endeavoured to catch it. His chapter upon the Law of Imagination is one of the most meagre in the book; and the total result, as far as a serviceable definition of poetry is concerned, is that he ends in finding himself in the same hut with Bacon, after having refused its shelter.

The antagonism between the Aristotelian theory, which makes poetry to consist in imitative passion, and the Baconian theory, which makes it to consist in imaginative passion, is curiously reproducing itself at present in the kindred art of painting. Pre-Raphaelitism is in painting very much what the reform led by Wordsworth was in poetical literature. Imitate nature; reproduce her exact and literal forms; do not paint ideal trees or vague recollections of trees, ideal brick-walls or vague recollections of brick-walls, but actual trees and actual brick-walls; dismiss from your minds the trash of Sir Joshua Reynolds about "correcting nature," "improving nature," and the like; – such are the maxims addressed by the Pre-Raphaelites, both with brush and with pen, to their fellow-artists. All this is, we say, a return to the theory of Aristotle, which makes the essence of art to consist in Imitation, and a protest against that of Bacon, which makes the essence of art to consist in Idealization. Poor Sir Joshua Reynolds ought to fall back upon Bacon, so that when he is next attacked for his phrases "improving nature," and the like, the Pre-Raphaelites may see looming behind him the more formidable figure of a man whose words no one dares to call trash, and whose very definition of art was couched in expressions like these: – "There is, agreeable to the spirit of man, a more ample greatness, a more exact goodness, and a more absolute variety than can be found in the nature of things;" "the use of feigned history is to give to the mind of man some shadow of satisfaction in those points wherein the nature of things doth deny it." The battle, we say, must be fought with these phrases. Nor is the battle confined to the art of painting. There is a more restricted kind of Pre-Raphaelitism now making its way in the department of fictitious literature. Admiring the reality, the truthfulness of Thackeray's delineations of life and society, there are men who will have nothing to do with what they call the phantasies and caricatures of the Dickens [304] school. The business of the novelist, they say, is to represent men as they are, with all their foibles as well as their virtues; in other words, to imitate real life. Here again comes in the Baconian thunder. "Because the acts or events of true history have not that magnitude which satisfieth the mind of man, poesy (and Bacon's definition of poesy includes the prose-fiction) feigneth acts and events greater and more heroical." Whether Dickens can take the benefit of this authority in those cases where he is charged with unreality, we need not inquire; it evidently points, however, to a possible style of prose-fiction different from that of Fielding and Thackeray, and yet as legitimate in the view of art.

For ourselves, we hold the Imitation theory as applied to poetry or art to be so inadequate in essential respects that it would be time lost to try to mend it; and we find no suitable statement of what seems to us to be the very idea of poetry, except in some definition tantamount to that of Bacon. Only consider the matter for a moment. Take any piece of verse from any poet, and in what single respect can that piece of verse be said to be an imitation of nature? In the first place, that it is verse at all is a huge deviation in itself from what is, in any ordinary sense, natural. Men do not talk in good literary prose, much less in blank verse or rhyme. Macbeth, in his utmost strait and horror – Lear, when the lightnings scathed his white head – did not actually talk in metre. Even Bruce at Bannockburn did not address his army in trochees. Here, then, at the very outset, there is a break-down in the theory of Imitation, or literal truth to nature. And all prose-literature shares in this break-down. Not a single personage in Scott's novels would have spoken precisely as Scott makes them speak; nay, nor is there a single character in Thackeray himself strictly and in every respect a fac-simile of what is real. Correct grammar, sentences of varied lengths and of various cadences, much more octosyllabic or pentameter verse, and still more rhymed stanzas, are all artificialities. Literature has them, but in real life they are not to be found. It is as truly a deviation from nature to represent a king talking in blank verse, or a lover plaining in rhyme, as it is, in an opera, as to make a martyr sing a song and be encored before being thrown into the flames. So far as truth to nature is concerned, an opera, or even a ballet, is hardly more artificial than a drama. Supposing, however, that, in order to escape from this difficulty, it should be said that metre, rhyme, rhetorical consecutiveness, and the like, are conditions previously and for other reasons existing in the material in which the imitation is to take place, would the theory of imitation or truth to nature even then hold good? Let it be granted [305] that grammatical and rhythmical prose is, as it were, a kind of marble, that blank verse is, as it were, a kind of jasper, and that rhymed verse is, as it were, a kind of lapis lazuli or opaline; that the selection of these substances as the materials in which the imitation is to be effected is a thing already and independently determined on; and that it is only in so far as imitation can be achieved consistently with the nature of these substances that imitation and art are held to be synonymous. Will the theory even then look the facts in the face? It will not. In the time of Aristotle, indeed, when most Greek poetry was, to a greater degree than poetry is now, either directly descriptive or directly narrative, the theory might have seemed less astray than it must to us. Even then, however, it was necessarily at fault. The Achilles and the Ajax of Homer, the Œdipus and the Antigone of Sophocles were, in no sense, imitations from nature; they were ideal beings, never seen on any Ægean coast, and dwelling nowhere save in the halls of imagination. Aristotle himself felt this; and hence, at the risk of cracking into pieces his own fundamental theory, he indulges occasionally in a strain like that of Bacon when he maintains that poetry "representeth actions and events less ordinary and interchanged, and endueth them with more rareness," than is found in nature. "The poet's business," says Aristotle, "is not to tell events as they have actually happened, but as they possibly might happen." And again: "Poetry is more philosophical and more sublime than history." Very true, but what then becomes of the imitation? In what possible sense can there be imitation unless where there is something to be imitated? If that something is ideal, if it exists not actually and outwardly, but only in the mind of the artist, then imitation is the wrong word to use. And all this will be much more obvious if we refer to modern poetry. Here is a stanza from Spenser – part of his description of the access to Mammon's cave. He has just described Revenge, Jealousy, Fear, Shame, and other entities.

"And over them sad Horror with grim hue
 Did always soar, beating his iron wings;
 And after him owls and night-ravens flew,
 The hateful messengers of heavy things,
 Of death and dolour telling sad tidings;
 Whiles sad Celeno, sitting on a clift,
 A song of bale and bitter sorrow sings,
 That heart of flint asunder could have rift;
 Which having ended, after him she flieth swift."

This is true poetry; and yet, by no possible ingenuity, short of that which identified Jeremiah with pickled cucumbers, [306] could it be shewn to consist of imitation. If it be said that it is mimic creation, and that this is the sense in which Aristotle meant his imitation, or μιμησις, to be understood, we shall be very glad to accept the explanation; but then we shall have to say, in reply, that as the essence of the business lies in the word "creation" as the substantive of the phrase, it is a pity the brunt of the disquisition should have been borne so long by the adjective. Aristotle, we believe, did mean that poetry was, in the main, fiction, or invention of fables in imitation of nature; but, unfortunately, even then he misleads by making imitation, which is but the jackal in the treatise, seem the lion in the definition. Nor even then will his theory be faultless and complete. Spenser's grim-hued Horror soaring aloft, beating his iron wings, and with owls and night-ravens after him, is certainly a creation; but in what sense it is a mimic creation, or a creation in imitation of nature, it would take a critic, lost to all reasonable use of words, to show. In short, and to close this discussion with a phrase which seems to us to fall like a block of stone crush through all our puny contemporary reasonings about art imitating nature, being true to nature, and the like – "Art is called art," said Goethe, "simply because it is not nature." This, it will be seen, is identical with Bacon's poesy "submitting the shows of things to the desires of the mind." Only in one sense can it be said that art itself comes under the denomination of nature. Thus, Shakespeare –

                        "E'en that art,
Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art
That nature makes."

True, as Goethe would have been the first to admit! In this sense, Spenser's grim-hued Horror beating his iron wings was a part of nature, seeing that, in this sense, the poet's own soul, with that very imagination starting out of it, was involved and contained in the universal round. But in any sense in which the words art and nature are available for the purposes of critical exposition, Goethe's saying is irrefragable – "Art is called art simply because it is not nature." Dissolve the poet through nature, regard the creative act itself as a part of nature, and then, of course, poetry or art is truth to nature; but keep them distinct, as you must do if you talk of imitation, and then the poet is nature's master, changer, tyrant, lover, watcher, slave, and mimic, all in one, his head now low in her lap, and again, a moment after, she scared and weeping, that, though he is with her, he minds her not.

All this, we believe, is very necessary to be said. Pre-Raphaelitism in painting, like Wordsworth's reform in poetical literature, [307] we regard, so far as it is a recall of art to truth and observation, as an unmixed good. But it is essentially, in this particular respect, a reform only in the language of art; and art itself is not language, but the creative use of it. We think the Pre-Raphaelites know this; for though, in theorizing, they naturally put forward their favourite idea of imitation or truthfulness, as if it were the sum and substance of art, yet in their practice, as Coleridge remarked of Wordsworth, they are as much imaginative artists as imitative. Take any of the higher Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and while the language of the painting – that is, the flowers, and grasses, and foliage, and brick-walls, and costumes – are more real and true imitations than are to be seen elsewhere, the thought which this language is used to convey is at least as ideal, as much a supposition, imagination, or recombination, as much a mere wish or utinam, as in the majority of other pictures. Still, in our theory of art at the present day, or at least in our theory of literary art, the notion of imitation is beginning to exist in excess. The very power of that most admirable of our novelists, Thackeray, is beginning to spoil us. We will have nothing but reality, nothing but true renderings of men and women as they are; no giants or demigods any more, but persons of ordinary stature, and the black and the white in character so mixed that people shall neither seem crows nor white doves, but all more or less magpies. Good, certainly, all this; but had the rule always been peremptory, as some would now make it, where had been our Achilleses, our Prometheuses, our Tancreds, our Lears, our Hamlets, our Fausts, our Egmonts; these men that never were, these idealizations of what might be – not copied from nature, but imagined and full fashioned by the soul of man, and thence disenchained into nature, magnificent phantasms, to roam amid its vacancies? Nor will it do to exempt the epic and the tragic muses, and to subject to the rule only the muse of prose fiction. Where, in that case, had been our Quixotes, our Pantagruels and Panurges, our Ivanhoes and Rebeccas, our Fixleins and Siebenkaeses? These were sublimations of nature, not imitations; suggestions to history by brain and genius, and an inspired philosophy. The muse of prose literature is very hardly dealt with. We see not why, in prose, there should not be much of that mighty license in the fantastic, that measured riot, that right of whimsy, that unabashed dalliance with the extreme and the beautiful, which the world allows, by prescription, to verse. Why may not one in prose chase forest-nymphs, and see little green-eyed elves, and delight in peonies and musk-roses, and invoke the stars, and roll mists about the hills, and watch the seas thundering through caverns, and dashing against promontories? Why, in prose, [308] quail from the grand or ghastly on the one hand, or blush with shame at too much of the exquisite on the other? Is prose made of iron? Must it never weep, must it never laugh – never linger to look at a buttercup, never ride at a gallop over the downs? Always at a steady trot, transacting only such business as may be done within the limits of a soft sigh on the one hand, and a thin smile on the other, must it leave all finer and higher work of imagination to the care of sister Verse? Partly so, perhaps; for prose soon gets ashamed of itself, and, when very highly inspired, lifts itself into verse. Yet it is well for literature that we have still such men among us as De Quincey and Christopher North; prose poets to us, as Richter was to the Germans; men avoiding nothing as too fantastic for their element, but free and daring in it as the verse poet in his; fronting the grisliest shapes, ascending to the farthest heights, descending to the lowest depths, pursuing the quaintest conceits; all the while, too, such masters of the element itself; now piling sound on sound into a great organ-symphony, now witching, as with harp-music, now letting the sense die away in cadence, like the echoes of a bugle blown among the hills. All honour to Thackeray and the prose-fiction of social reality; but let us not so theorize as to exclude from prose-fiction, when we can get it, the boundless imagination of another Richter, or even the lawless zanyism of another Rabelais.

Poetry, then, we must, after all, define in terms tantamount, or thereabouts, to those of Bacon. With Bacon himself we may define it vaguely as having reference to the imagination, "which faculty submitteth the shows of things to the desires of the mind, whereas reason doth buckle and bow the mind unto the nature of things." Or we may vary the phrase, and, with Coleridge, call it "the vision and faculty divine;" or, with Leigh Hunt, "imaginative passion," the passion for "imaginative pleasure;" or, with Mr. Dallas, more analytically, "the imaginative, harmonious, and unconscious activity of the soul." In any case, IMAGINATION is the main word, the main idea. Upon this Shakespeare himself has put his seal.

"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
 Are of imagination all compact."

In short, poesy is what the Greek language recognised it to be – ποίησις, or creation. The antithesis, therefore, is between Poetry and Science – ποίησις and νόησις. Let the universe of all accumulated existence, inner and outer, material and mental, up to the present moment, lie under one like a sea, and there are two ways in which it may be intellectually dealt with and brooded over. On the one hand, the intellect of man may brood [309] over it inquiringly, striving to penetrate beneath it, to understand the system of laws by which its multitudinous atoms are held together, to master the mystery of its pulsations and sequences. This is the mood of the man of science. On the other hand, the intellect of man may brood over it creatively, careless how it is held together, or whether it is held together at all, and regarding it only as a great accumulation of material to be submitted farther to the operation of a combining energy, and lashed and beaten up into new existences. This is the mood of the poet. The poet is emphatically the man who continues the work of creation; who forms, fashions, combines, imagines; who breathes his own spirit into things; who conditions the universe anew according to his whim and pleasure; who bestows heads of brass on men when he likes, and sees beautiful women with arms of azure; who walks amid Nature's appearances, divorcing them, rematching them, interweaving them, starting at every step, as it were, a flock of white-winged phantasies that fly and flutter into the heaven of the future.

All very well; but, in plain English, what is meant by this imagination, this creative faculty, which is allowed by all to be the characteristic of the poet? Mr. Dallas will tell you that psychologists differ in their definitions of imagination. Dugald Stewart, and others, he says, have regarded it solely as the faculty which looks to the possible and unknown, which invents hippogriffs and the like ideal beasts, in short, the creative faculty proper. Mr. Dallas properly maintains that this is not sufficient, and that the faculty unphilosophically called Conception, that is, the faculty which mirrors or reproduces the real, must also be included in the poetic imagination. And this is nearly all that he says on the subject.

Now, if we were to venture on a closer definition, such as might stand its ground, and be found applicable over the whole length and breadth of poetry, we should, perhaps, affirm something to the following effect: – The poetic or imaginative faculty is the power of intellectually producing a new or artificial concrete; and the poetic genius or temperament is that disposition of mind which leads habitually, or by preference, to this kind of intellectual exercise. There is much in this statement that might need explanation. In the first place, we would call attention to the words "intellectually producing," "intellectual exercise." These words are not needlessly inserted. It seems to us that the distinct recognition of what is implied in these words would save a great deal of confusion. The phrases "poetic fire," "poetic passion," and the like, true and useful as they are on proper occasion, are calculated sometimes to mislead. There is fire, there is passion in the poet; but that which is peculiar in the [310] poet, that which constitutes the poetic tendency as such, is a special intellectual habit, distinct from the intellectual habit of the man of science. The poetic process may be set in operation by, and accompanied by, any amount of passion or feeling; but the poetic process itself, so far as such distinctions are of any value, is an intellectual process. Farther, as to its kind, it is the intellectual process of producing a new or artificial concrete. This distinguishes poetry at once in all its varieties, and whether in verse or in prose, from the other forms of literature. In scientific or expository literature the tendency is to the abstract, to the translation of the facts and appearances of nature into general intellectual conceptions and forms of language. In oratorical literature, or the literature of moral stimulation, the aim is to urge the mind in a certain direction or to induce upon it a certain state. There remains, distinct from either of these, the literature of the concrete, the aim of which is to represent the facts and appearances of nature and life, or to form out of them new concrete combinations. There are men who delight in things simply because they have happened, or because they can imagine them to happen – men, for example, to whom it is a real pleasure to know that at such and such a time a knight in armour rode along that way and across that bridge; who have an infinite relish for such a fact as that Sulla had a face mottled white and red, so that an Athenian wit compared it to a mulberry dipped in meal; who can go back to that moment, ay, and re-arrest time there, as in a picture, when Manlius hung half-way down the Tarpeian rock, and had his death of blood yet beneath him, or when Marie Antoinette lay under the axe, and it had not fallen; men, to whom also the mere embodiments of their own fancy, or of the fancy of others, are visions they never tire to doat and gaze on. These are the votaries of the concrete. Now, so far as that literature of the concrete whose business it is to gratify such feelings, deals merely with the actual facts of the past as delivered to it by memory, it resolves itself into the department of history; while so far as it remains unexhausted by such a subduction it is poetry or creative literature. We speak, of course, theoretically; in practice, as all know, the two shade into each other, the historian often requiring and displaying the imagination of the poet, and the poet, on the other hand, often relapsing into the describer and the historian. And here it is that one part of our definition may be found fault with. Seeing that the poet does not necessarily, in every case, invent scenes and incidents totally ideal, but often treats poetically the actual fields and landscapes of the earth and the real incidents of life; seeing, in fact, that much of our best and most genuine poetry is descriptive and historical, why define poesy to be the produc[311]tion of a new or artificial concrete? Why not call it either the reproduction of an old or the production of a new concrete? There is, we believe, no objection to calling it so, except that the division which would be thus established is not fundamental. In every piece of poetry, we believe, even the most descriptive and historical, that which makes it poetical is not the concrete, as furnished by sheer recollection, but the concrete as shaped and bodied forth anew by the poet's thought, that is, as in the strictest sense factitious and artificial. Shelley, indeed, very sweetly calls poetry "the record of the best and happiest moments of the best and happiest minds;" but then this only refers us farther back in time for the poetry, which certainly does not consist in the act of recording, if it be only recording, but already lay in the good and happy moments that are recorded. Thus, if it be said that the beautiful passage in Wordsworth describing a winter landscape, with the lake on which he skated with his companions in his boyhood, is a mere transcript of a scene from recollection, we reply, that, if it be so, (which we do not admit,) then the poetry of the passage was transacted along with the skating, and the critic, instead of watching the man at his writing-table must keep by the side of the boy on the ice. In short, in every case whatever, poetry is the production of an artificial concrete – artificial either in toto, or in so far as it is matter of sense and memory worked into form by the infusion of a meaning. The word artificial, we know, has bad associations connected with it; but, as Hazlitt said of Allegory, the word is really a harmless word, and won't bite you. It is only necessary to see what it means here to invest it with all that is splendid.

The poetical tendency, then, is the tendency to that kind of mental activity which consists in the production, we might almost say secretion, by the mind of an artificial concrete; and the poetic genius is that kind or condition of mind to which this kind of activity is constitutionally most delightful and easy. Of the legitimacy and nobleness of such a mode of activity what need is there to say anything? With some theorists, indeed, poets are little better than privileged liars, and poetry is little better than the art of lying so as to give pleasure. Even Bacon, with his synonyms of "feigned history" and the like, evidently means to insinuate a kind of contempt for poetry as compared with philosophy. The one he calls "the theatre," where it is not good to stay long; the other is the "judicial place or palace of the mind." This is natural enough in a man the tenor of whose own intellectual work must have inclined him, apart even from the original constitutional bias which determined that, to prefer the exercise which "buckled and bowed the mind to the nature of things," to the exercise which "elevates the mind by sub[312]mitting the shows of things to its desires." But, recognising, as he did, that the one exercise is, equally with the other, the exercise of a faculty which is part and parcel of the human constitution, he was not the man to go very far with the joke about poets being a species of liars. That, we believe, was Bentham's fun. One can see what a good thing the old gentleman might have made of it. "Why was that poor fellow transported? Why, the fact is, at last assizes, he originated a piece of new concrete, which the law calls perjury." But the joke may be taken by the other end. When that deity of the Grecian mythology, (if the Grecian mythology had such a deity,) whose function it was to create trees, walked one sultry day over the yet treeless earth, big with unutterable thought, and when, chancing to lie down in a green spot, the creative frenzy came upon him, his thought rushed forth, and with a whirr of earthy atoms all round and a tearing of turf, the first of oaks sprang up completed, that also was the origination of a new piece of concrete, but one could hardly say that it was telling a lie. Had his godship been a philosopher instead of a poet – had he buckled and bowed his mind to the nature of things instead of accommodating the shows of things to his desires – the world might have been without oaks to this very day.

Poetical activity being defined generally to be that kind of intellectual activity which results in the production, or, as one might say, deposition by the mind of new matter of the concrete, it follows that there are as many varieties in the exercise of this activity as there are possible forms of an intellectual concrete. To attempt a complete enumeration of the various ways in which imaginative activity may shew itself, would be almost hopeless; an instance or two, however, may bring some of the more common of them before the mind.

"The sun had just sunk below the tops of the mountains, whose long shadows stretched athwart the valley; but his sloping rays, shooting through an opening of the cliffs, touched with a yellow gleam the summits of the forest that hung upon the opposite steeps, and streamed in full splendour upon the towers and battlements of a castle that spread its extensive ramparts along the brow of a precipice above. The splendour of these illuminated objects was heightened by the contrasted shade which involved the valley below." – Mrs. Radcliffe .

                     "Almost at the root
Of that tall pine, the shadow of whose bare
And slender stem, while here I sit at eve,
Oft stretches towards me, like a long straight path,
Traced faintly on the greensward – there, beneath
A plain blue stone, a gentle dalesman lies." – Wordsworth.

[313] These are plain instances of that kind of imaginative exercise which consists in the imagination of scenes or objects. A large proportion of the imaginative activity of men generally, and of authors in particular, is of this species. It includes pictures and descriptions of all kinds – from the most literal reproductions of the real, whether in country or town, to the most absolute phantasies in form and colour; and from the scale of a single object, such as the moon or a bank of violets, to the scale of a Wordsworthian landscape, or of a Milton's universe with its orbs and interspaces. It may be called descriptive imagination.

"And Priam then alighted from his chariot,
 Leaving Idæus with it, who remained
 Holding the mules and horses; and the old man
 Went straight in-doors where the beloved of Jove
 Achilles sat, and found him.   In the room
 Were others, but apart; and two alone –
 The hero Automedon and Alcinous,
 A branch of Mars – stood by him.   They had been
 At meals, and had not yet removed the board.
 Great Priam came, without their seeing him,
 And, kneeling down, he clasped Achilles' knees
 And kissed those terrible homicidal hands
 Which had deprived him of so many sons." – Homer.

This is the imagination of incident, or narrative imagination. The instance is plain even to baldness – it is direct Homeric narration; but for this very reason it will better stand as a type of that large department of imaginative activity to which it belongs. In this department are included all narrations of incidents whether historical and real, or fictitious and horribly supernatural; from the scale, too, of the single incident as told in a ballad, or incidentally as a link in a continuous story, up to the sustained unity of the epos or drama, as in Crusoe, Don Quixote, the Iliad, the Divine Comedy, the Faery Queene, Macbeth, or Paradise Lost. It is unnecessary to point out that the narration of incident always involves a certain amount of description of scenery.

"The Reve was a slender colerike man,
 His beard was shave as nigh as ever he can,
 His hair was by his ears round yshorne,
 His top was dockéd like a priest beforne.
 Full longé were his leggés and full lean,
 Ylike a staff; there was no calf yseen." – Chaucer.

This may stand as a specimen of what is in reality a sub-variety of the imaginative exercise first mentioned, but is important enough to be adverted to apart. It may be called the imagination of physiognomy and costume, under which head [314] might be collected an immense number of passages from all quarters of our literature. This department, too, will include both the real and ideal – the real, as in Chaucer's and Scott's portraits of men and women; the ideal, as in Spenser's personifications, in Ariosto's hippogriff, or in Dante's Nimrod in a pit in hell, with his face as large as the dome of St. Peter's, and his body in proportion, blowing a horn, and yelling gibberish. Connected with this in practice, but distinguishable from it, is another variety of imaginative exercise, which may be called the imagination of states of feeling. Here is an example: –

"A fig for those by law protected!
    Liberty's a glorious feast;
 Courts for cowards were erected;
    Churches built to please the priest."
                                    Burns's Jolly Beggars.

This stanza, it will be observed, and we have chosen it for the purpose, is, in itself, as little poetical as may be; it is mere harsh Chartist prose. But in so far as it is an imagined piece of concrete, that is, in so far as it is an imagination by the poet of the state of feeling of another mind, or of his own mind in certain circumstances, it is poetical. This is an important consideration, for it links the poet not only with what is poetical in itself, but with a whole, much bigger, world of what is unpoetical in itself. The poet may imagine opinions, doctrines, heresies, cogitations, debates, expositions – there is no limit to his traffic with the moral any more than with the sensuous appearances of the universe; only, as a poet, he deals with all these as concrete things, existing in the objective air, and from which his own soul stands royally disentangled, as a spade stands loose from the sand it shovels, whether it be sand of gold or sand of silex. The moment any of the doctrines he is dealing with melts subjectively into his own personal state of being, (which is necessarily and nobly happening continually,) that moment the poet ceases to be a poet pure, and becomes so far a thinker or moralist in union with the poet. As regards the literary range of this kind of imaginative exercise, – the imagination of states of feeling – it is only necessary to remember what a large proportion it includes of our lyric poetry, and how far it extends itself into the epic and the drama, where (and especially in the drama) it forms, together with the imagination of costume, the greater part of what is called the invention of character.

The foregoing is but a slight enumeration of some of the various modes of imaginative exercise as they are popularly distinguishable; and, in transferring them into Creative Literature at large, they must be conceived as incessantly interblended, and [315] as existing in all varieties and degrees of association with personal thought, personal purpose, and personal calm or storm of feeling. It is matter of common observation, however, that some writers excel more in one and some more in another of the kinds of imagination enumerated. One writer is said to excel in descriptions, but to be deficient in plot and incident, nay, to excel in that kind of description which consists in the imagination of form, but to be deficient in that which consists in the imagination of colour. Another is said to excel in plot, but to be poor in the invention of character, and in other particulars. In short, the imagination, though in one sense it acts loose and apart from the personality, flying freely round and round it, like a sea-bird round a rock, seems, in a deeper sense, restricted by the same law as the personality in its choice and apprehension of the concrete. The organ of ideality, as the phrenologist would say, is the organ by which man freely bodies forth an ideal objective, and yet, let ideality bulge out in a man's head as big as an egg, it is of no use applying it, with Keats or Milton, in the direction of white pinks, pansies freaked with jet, sapphire battlements, and crimson-lipped shells, unless there is a little knot on the eyebrow over the organ of colour.

The poetical tendency of the human mind being this tendency to the ideal concrete, to the imagination of scenes, incidents, physiognomies, states of feeling, and so on; and all men having more or less of this tendency, catering for them in the ideal concrete, very much in the same way, and to the same effect, as their senses cater for them in the real, (so that the imagination of a man might be said to be nothing more than the ghosts of his senses wandering in an unseen world) – it follows that the poet, par excellence, is simply the man whose intellectual activity is consumed in this kind of exercise. All men have imagination; but the poet is "of imagination all compact." He lives and moves in the ideal concrete. He teems with imaginations of forms, colours, incidents, physiognomies, feelings, and characters. The ghosts of his senses are as busy in an unseen world of sky, and cloud, and sea, and vegetation, and cities, and highways, and thronged markets of men, and mysterious beings, belonging even to the horizon of that existence, as his real senses are with all the nearer world of nature and life. But the notable peculiarity lies in this, that every thought of his in the interest of this world is an excursion into that. In this respect the theory which has been applied to the exposition of the Grecian mythology applies equally to poetic genius in general. The essence of the mythical process, it is said, lay in this, that the early children of the earth having no abstract language, every thought of theirs, of whatever kind, and about whatever matter, [316] was necessarily a new act of imagination, a new excursion in the ideal concrete. If they thought of the wind, they did not think of a fluid rushing about, but of a deity blowing from a cave; if they thought of virtue rewarded, they saw the idea in the shape of a visible transaction, in some lone place, between beings human and divine. And so, allowing for a certain obvious amount of difference, with the poetical mode of thought to this day. Every thought of the poet, about whatever subject, is transacted not wholly in propositional language, but for the most part in a kind of phantasmagoric, or representative language of imaginary scenes, objects, incidents, and circumstances. To clothe his feelings with circumstance; to weave forth whatever arises in his mind into an objective tissue of imagery and incident that shall substantiate it and make it visible; such is the constant aim and art of the poet. Take an example. The idea of life occurs to the poet Keats, and how does he express it?

"Stop and consider!   Life is but a day;
 A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
 From a tree's summit; a poor Indian's sleep,
 While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep
 Of Montmorenci.   Why so sad a moan?
 Life is the rose's hope while yet unblown;
 The reading of an everchanging tale;
 The light uplifting of a maiden's veil;
 A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air;
 A laughing school-boy, without grief or care,
 Riding the springy branches of an elm."

This is true ποίησις. What with the power of innate analogy, what with the occult suasion of the rhyme, there arose first in the poet's mind, contemporaneous with the idea of life, nay, as incorporate with that idea, the imaginary object or vision of the dew-drop falling through foliage – that imagined circumstance is, therefore, flung forth as representative of the idea. But even this does not exhaust the creative force; the idea bodies itself again in the new imaginary circumstance of the Indian in his boat; and that, too, is flung forth. Then there is a rest; but the idea still buds, still seeks to express itself in new circumstance, and five other translations of it follow. And these seven pictures, these seven morsels of imagined concrete, supposing them all to be intellectually genuine, are as truly the poet's thoughts about life as any seven scientific definitions would be the thoughts of the physiologist or the metaphysician. And so in other instances. Tennyson's Vision of Sin is a continued phantasmagory of scene and incident representative of a meaning; and if the meaning is not plain throughout, it is because it would be impossible for the poet himself to translate every portion of it out of that language [317] of phantasmagory in which alone it came into existence. Again, Spenser's personifications – his grim-hued Horror soaring on iron wings, his Jealousy sitting alone biting his lips, and the like – are all thoughts expressed in circumstance, the circumstance in this case being that of costume and physiognomy. So, too, with such splendid personifications as those of De Quincey – the eldest and the youngest of the Ladies of Sorrow; the one, the Lady of Tears, with eyes sweet and subtle, wild and sleepy by turns, a diadem on her head, and keys at her girdle; the other, the Lady of Darkness, her head turreted like Cybele, rising almost beyond the reach of sight, the blazing misery of her eyes concealed by a treble veil of crape. In short, every thought of the poet is an imagination of concrete circumstance of some kind or other – circumstance of visual scenery, of incident, of physiognomy, of feeling, or of character. The poet's thought, let the subject be what it may, brings him to

"Visions of all places: a bowery nook
 Will be elysium – an eternal book
 Whence he may copy many a lovely saying
 About the leaves and flowers – about the playing
 Of nymphs in woods and fountains, and the shade
 Keeping a silence round a sleeping maid;
 And many a verse from so strange influence
 That we must ever wonder how and whence
 It came;"

this occultness, arising from the inscrutability of the law which connects one concrete phantasy of the dreaming mind with another. Regarding the poet, then, considered in his nature, we may sum up by saying, that the act of cogitation with him is nothing else than the intellectual secretion of fictitious circumstance – the nature of the circumstance in each case depending on the operation of those mysterious affinities which relate thought to the world of sense. In regarding the poet more expressly as a literary artist, all that we have to do is to vary the phrase, and say – the intellectual invention of fictitious circumstance. This will apply to all that is truly poetical in literature, whether on the large scale or on the small. In every case what is poetical in literature consists of the embodiment of some notion or feeling, or some aggregate of notions and feelings, in appropriate objective circumstances. Thus, in historical or biographical writing, the poetic faculty is shown by the skill, sometimes conscious and sometimes unconscious, with which the figures are not only portrayed in themselves, but set against imagined objective backgrounds, and made to move amid circumstances having a pre-arranged harmony with what they do. The achievement of this, [318] in consistency with the truth of record, is the highest triumph of the descriptive historian. In fictitious prose-narrative the same poetic art has still freer scope. That a lover should be leaning over a stile at one moment, and sitting under a tree at another; that it should be clear, pure moonlight when Henry is happy, and that the moon should be bowling through clouds, and a dog be heard howling at a farmhouse near, when the same Henry means to commit suicide – are artifices of which every ordinary novelist is master who knows his trade. The giant Grangousier, in Rabelais, sitting by the fire, very intent upon the broiling of some chesnuts, drawing scratches on the hearth with the end of a burnt stick, and telling to his wife and children pleasant stories of the days of old, is an instance of a higher kind, paralleled by many in Scott and Cervantes. And, then, in the epic and the drama! Hamlet with the skull in his hand, and Homer's heroes βη-ing by the πολυφλοισβοιο ! It is the same throughout the whole literature of fiction – always thought expressed and thrown off in the language of representative circumstance. Indeed, Goethe's theory of poetical or creative literature was, that it is nothing else than the moods of its practitioners objectivized as they rise. A man feels himself oppressed and agitated by feelings and longings, now of one kind, now of another, that have gathered upon him till they have assumed the form of a definite moral uneasiness; if he is not a literary man, he must contrive to work off the load, in some way or other, by the ordinary activity of life, which, indeed, is the great preventive established by nature; if he is a literary man, then the uneasiness is but the motive to creation, and the result is – a song, a drama, an epic, or a novel. Scheming out some plan or story, which is in itself a sort of allegory of his mood as a whole, he fills up the sketch with minor incidents, scenes, and characters, which are nothing more, as it were, than the breaking up of the mood into its minutiæ, and the elaboration of these minutiæ, one by one, into the concrete. This done, the mood has passed into the objective; it may be looked at as something external to the mind, which is, therefore, from that moment rid of it, and ready for another. Such, at least, was Goethe's theory, which, he said, would apply most rigidly to all that he had himself written. Nor would it be difficult, with due explanation, to apply the theory to the works of all the other masters of creative or poetical literature – Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Scott, and Shakespeare. Dante may be said to have slowly translated his whole life into one representative performance.

Several supplementary considerations must be now adduced. The form of the poet's cogitation, we have said, is the evolution not of abstract propositions, but of representative concrete circum[319]stances. But in this too, there may be degrees of better and worse, of greater and less. Precisely as, of two writers thinking in the language of abstract speculation, we can say, without hesitation, which has the more powerful mind; so of two writers thinking in the other language of concrete circumstance, one may be evidently superior to the other. There is room, in short, for all varieties of greater and less among poets as among other people; there may be poets who are giants, and there may be poets who are pigmies. Hence the folly of the attempts to exalt the poetical genius, merely as such, above other kinds of intellectual manifestation. A man may be constitutionally formed so that he thinks his thoughts in the language of concrete circumstance; and still his thoughts may be very little thoughts, hardly worth having in any language. Both poets and men of science must be tried among their peers. Whether there is a common measure, and what it is; whether there is an intrinsic superiority in the mode of cogitation of the poet over that of the philosopher, or the reverse; and whether and how far we may then institute a comparison of absolute greatness between Aristotle and Homer, between Milton and Kant, are questions of a higher calculus, which most men may leave alone. There is no difficulty, however, when the question is between a Kirke White and a Kant; and when a poor poet, ever so genuine in a small way, intrudes himself on the Exchange of the general world, telling people there that his intellect is "genius," and that theirs is "talent," he evidently runs a risk of being very unceremoniously treated.

"This palace standeth in the air,
 By necromancy placed there,
 That it no tempest needs to fear,
        Which ways soe'er it blow it:
 And somewhat southward tow'rd the noon
 There lies a way up to the moon,
 And thence the fairy can as soon
        Pass to the Earth below it."

This is very sweet, and nice, and poetical, (it is by Drayton; not a small poet, but a considerable one;) and yet there needs be no great hesitation in saying that, call it genius or what we will, there was less commotion of the elements when it was produced than when Newton excogitated his theory of the law of gravitation.

But, to pass to another point. The imagination, as we have already said, following the law of the personality, some imaginations are strong where others are weak, and weak where others are strong. In other words, though all poets, as such, express [320] themselves in the language of concrete circumstance, some are greater adepts in one kind of circumstance, others in another. Some are great in the circumstance of form, which is the sculptor's favourite circumstance; others can produce admirable compositions in chiaroscuro; others again have the whole rainbow on their pallet. And so, some express themselves better in incident, others better in physiognomy and character. All this is recognised in daily criticism. Now, the consequence of the diversity is that it is very difficult to compare poets even amongst themselves. It is not every poet, that, like Shakespeare, exhibits an imagination that is absolutely or all but absolutely universal, using with equal ease the language of form, of colour, of character, and of incident. Shakespeare himself, if we may infer anything from his minor poems, and from the carelessness with which he took ready-made plots for his dramas from any quarter (in which, however, there may be a philosophy,) was not so great a master of incident as of other kinds of circumstance, and could hardly have rivalled Homer, or even Scott, purely as a narrative poet. How, then, establish a comparative measure, assigning a relative value to each kind of circumstance? How balance what Chaucer has and has not, against what Milton has and has not – Chaucer so skilful in physiognomy, against Milton who has so little of it, but who has so much else; or how estimate the chiaroscuro of Byron as against the richly coloured vegetation of Keats? Here, too, a scientific rule is undiscoverable, and a judgment is only possible in very decided cases, or by the peremptory verdict of private taste.

"Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,
 Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid."

Who will venture to institute a sure comparison of merit between this exquisite bit of colour from Tennyson, and the following simple narrative lines from the same poet? –

"And all the man was broken with remorse;
 And all his love came back a hundredfold;
 And for three hours he sobbed o'er William's child,
 Thinking of William."

There is yet a third thing that has to be taken into consideration. Be a man as truly a poet as it is possible to be, and be the kind of circumstance in which his imagination excels as accurately known as possible, it is not always that he can do his best. The poet, like other men, is subject to inequalities of mood and feeling. Now he is excited and perturbed because [321] the occasion is one to rouse his being from its depths; now he is placid, calm, and, as one might say, commonplace. Hence variations in the interest of the poetical efforts of one and the same poet. As he cannot choose but think poetically, whether roused or not, even the leisurely babble of his poorest hours, if he chooses to put it forth, will be sweet and poetical. But he is not to be measured by this, any more than the philosopher by his casual trifles, or the orator by his speeches on questions that are insignificant. Nay, more than this, it is important to remark that it is only at a certain pitch of feeling that some men become poets. For, though the essence of poetry consists, as we have said, in a particular mode of intellectual exercise, yet the emotional moment at which different minds adopt this mode of exercise may not be the same. The language of concrete circumstance is natural to all men when they are very highly excited: all joy, all sorrow, all rage, expresses itself in vivid imaginations. The question then not unfrequently ought to be, at what level of feeling a man is or professes to be a poet. On this may depend, not your verdict as to the genuineness of his poetry, but your disposition to spare time to listen to it. The most assiduous members of Parliament do not feel bound to be in the house even when a leader is speaking, unless it is a Cabinet question or a question of some considerable interest. Some orators know this and reserve themselves; others, delighting in their profession, speak on every question. It is the same with poets, and with the same result. A Keats, though always poetical, may often be poetical with so small a stimulus, that only lovers of poetry for its own sake feel themselves sufficiently interested. Why are Milton's minor poems, exquisite as they are, not cited as measures of the magnitude of his genius? Because they are not his speeches on Cabinet questions. Why is Spenser the favourite poet of poets, rather than a popular favourite like Byron? For the same reason that a Court is crowded during a trial for life or death, but attended only by barristers during the trial of an intricate civil case. The subject chosen by a poetical writer, we have already said, is a kind of allegory of the whole state of his mental being at the moment; but some writers are not moved to allegorize so easily as others, and it is a question with readers what states of being they care most to see allegorized. This, then, is to be taken into account, in comparing poet with poet. Precisely as an orator is remembered by his speeches on great questions, and as the position of a painter among painters is determined in part by the interest of his subjects, so, in a comparison of poets together, or of the same poet with himself, the earnestness of the occasion always goes for something. Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, exquisite [322] as a poetical study, does not bear one down with the same human interest as his plays; and there is a mighty gradation of interest in advancing from leisurely compositions of the sweet sensuous order such as Keats' Endymion and Spenser's Faery Queene, to the stern and severe splendour of a Divina Commedia or a Prometheus Vinctus. True, on the one hand, poets choose their own subjects, so that these themselves are to be taken into the estimate; and, on the other, the very practice of the art of poetical expression on any subject, like the glow of the orator when he begins to speak, leads on and on to unexpected regions. Yet, after all, in weighing a poem against others, so as to pronounce a judgment as to relative greatness, this consideration of the emotional level at which it was produced, and of its interest in connexion with the general work and sentiment of the world, is a source of much perplexity.

"Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly,
 Most musical, most melancholy!
 Thee, chantress, oft the woods among
 I woo, to hear thy even-song;
 And, missing thee, I walk unseen
 On the dry smooth-shaven green,
 To behold the wandering moon
 Riding near her highest noon,
 Like one that hath been led astray
 Through the heaven's wide pathless way,
 And oft, as if her head she bow'd,
 Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
 Oft, on a plot of rising ground,
 I hear the far off curfew sound,
 Over some wide-watered shore,
 Swinging slow with sullen roar."

How decide between this from Milton's Penseroso, and this, in so different a key, from Shakespeare's Lear? –

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
 You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
 Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
 You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
 Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
 Singe my white head! and thou all-shaking thunder,
 Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world."

A fourth consideration, which intrudes itself into the question of our appreciation of actual poetry, and which is not sufficiently borne in mind, is, that in almost every poem there is much present besides the pure poetry. Poetry, as such, is cogitation in the language of concrete circumstance. Some poets excel [323] constitutionally in one kind of circumstance, some in another; some are moved to this mode of cogitation on a less, others on a greater emotional occasion; but, over and above all this, it is to be noted that no poet always and invariably cogitates in the poetical manner. Speculation, information, mental produce, and mental activity of all kinds, may be exhibited in the course of a work, which is properly called a poem, on account of its general character; and, as men are liable to be impressed by greatness in every form wherever they meet it, all that is thus precious in the extra-poetical contents of a poem, is included in the estimate of the greatness of the poet. One example will suffice. Shakespeare is as astonishing for the exuberance of his genius in abstract generalization, and for the depth of his analytic and philosophic insight, as for the scope and minuteness of his poetic imagination. It is as if into a mind poetical in form, there had been poured also all the matter that existed in the mind of his contemporary Bacon. In Shakespeare's plays we have thought, history, exposition, and philosophy, all within the round of the poet. The only difference between him and Bacon sometimes is, that Bacon writes an essay and calls it his own, and that Shakespeare writes a similar essay, and puts it into the mouth of a Ulysses or a Polonius. It is only this fiction of a speaker and an audience, together with the circumstance of the verse, that retains many of Shakespeare's noblest passages within the pale of strict poetry.

Hitherto, it will be observed, we have made no formal distinction between the poet, specifically so called, and the general practitioners of creative literature, of whatever species. Our examples, indeed, have been taken in the main from those whom the world recognises as poets; but, as far as our remarks have gone, poetry still stands synonymous with the whole literature of imagination. All who express their meaning, and impress it upon the world, by the literary representation of scenes, incidents, physiognomies, and characters, whether suggested by the real world or wholly imaginary, are poets. All who, doing this, do it grandly, and manifest a rich and powerful nature, are great poets. Those who excel more in the language of one kind of circumstance, are poets more especially of that kind of circumstance – poets of visual scenery, poets of incident and narration, poets of physiognomy, or poets of character and sentiment, as the case may be. Those who are poetical only at a high key, and in the contemplation of themes of large human interest, are the poets who take the deepest hold on the memory of the human race. Finally, those who, having the largest amount of poetic genius, and of the best kind, associate therewith the most extensive array of other intellectual qualities, are the men who, even [324] as poets, give their poems the greatest impetus and the greatest universal chance.

Not a word in all this, however, to exclude imaginative prose writers. So far, the Homers, the Platos, the Sophocleses, the Aristophaneses, the Virgils, the Dantes, the Boccaccios, the Chaucers, the Cervanteses, the Spensers, the Shakespeares, the Miltons, the Tassos, the Molières, the Goethes, the Richters, the Scotts, the Defoes, of the world are all huddled together, the principal figures of a great crowd, including alike poets and prose writers. These indeed may, in accordance with considerations already suggested, be distributed into groups, and that either by reference to degree or by reference to kind. But no considerations have yet been adduced that would separate the imaginative prose writers, as such – the Boccaccios, the Cervanteses, the Richters, the Scotts, the Defoes, and the De Quinceys, from the imaginative verse writers, as such. Now, though this is good provisionally; though it is well to keep together for a while in the same field of view all writers of imagination, whether bards or prose writers, and though, as we have already said, there is no reason why imagination in prose should not be allowed to do all it can do, and why prose writers like Richter and De Quincey should not be crowned with poetic laurel; yet the universal instinct of men, not to say also the prejudice of association and custom, demands that the poets, as a sect or brotherhood, shall be more accurately defined. How, then, lead out the poets, in the supreme sense, from the general throng where they yet stand waiting? By what device call the poets by themselves into the foreground, and leave the prose writers behind? By a union of two devices. Go in front of the general crowd, you two; you flag-bearer, with your richly painted flag, and you, fluter, with your silver flute. Flap the flag, and let them see it; sound the flute, and let them hear it. Lo! already the crowd wavers; it sways to and fro; some figures seem to be pressing forward from the midst, and at last one silver-headed old serjeant steps out in front of all, and begins to march to the sound of the flute. Who is it but old Homer? He is blind, and cannot see the flag, but he knows it is there, and the flute guides him. Others and others follow the patriarch, whom they never deserted yet, some looking to the flag, and others listening to the flute, but all marching in one direction. Shakespeare comes with the rest, stepping lightly, as if but half in earnest. And thus at last, lured by the flag and by the flute, all the poets are brought out into the foreground. The flag is Imagery, the flute is Verse. In other words, poets proper are distinguished from the general crowd of imaginative writers by a peculiar richness of language, which is called imagery, and by the use, along [325] with that language, of a measured arrangement of words known as verse.

It is, as Mr. Dallas observes, a moot point whether Imagery or Verse is to be regarded as the more essential element of poetry. It has been usual, of late, to give the palm to imagery. Thus, it was a remark of Lord Jeffrey – and the remark has almost passed into a proverb – that a want of relish for such rich sensuous poetry as that of Keats would argue a want of true poetical taste. The same would probably be said of Spenser. Mr. Dallas, on the other hand, thinks Verse more essential than Imagery, and in this Leigh Hunt would probably agree with him. The importance attached to a sensuous richness of language as part of poetry is, Mr. Dallas thinks, too great at present; and in opposition to Lord Jeffrey, or at least by way of corrective to his remark about Keats, he proposes that a power of appreciating such severe literary beauty as that of Sophocles, shall, more than anything else, be reckoned to the credit of a man's poetical taste. We think Mr. Dallas, on the whole, is in the right, and this will appear more clearly if we consider briefly what Imagery and Verse respectively are, in their relation to poetry.

Imagery in poetry is essentially this – secondary concrete adduced by the imagination in the expression of prior concrete. Thus, in the simile, –

                        "The superior Fiend
Was moving toward the shore, his ponderous shield
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb
Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
At evening from the top of Fesole."

Here the primary circumstance in the imagination of the poet is Satan, with his shield hung round his shoulders. While imagining this, however, the poet, moving at ease in the whole world of concrete things, strikes upon a totally distinct visual appearance, that of the moon seen through a telescope; and his imagination, enamoured with the likeness, cannot resist imparting the new picture to the reader as something auxiliary and additional to the first. Again, take the metaphor, –

"Sky lowered, and, muttering thunder, some sad drops
 Wept at completing of the mortal sin

Here the process is the same as in the simile, but more unconscious and complete. The concrete circumstance first in the mind (so far at least as these lines are concerned) is the sky dropping rain; in the imagination of this circumstance, another [326] imagined circumstance, that of a being shedding tears, intrudes itself; the two circumstances, so like to the mind that it hardly is conscious that they are two, are combined by a kind of identifying flash; and the rich double concrete is presented to the reader. So essentially with that highest species of metaphor, the personification or vivification, (of which, indeed, the metaphor quoted is an example,) the speciality of which consists in this, that a piece of concrete taken from the inanimate world is wedded to a piece of concrete taken from the world of life. The two worlds lying as it were side by side in the human imagination as the two halves of all being, this kind of metaphor is the most natural and the most frequent of all; and powerful imaginations are exceedingly prone to it. A subvariety, to which some writers are much addicted, is the identification of brute with human circumstance, as witness Dickens's dogs and ponies.

Almost all so-called images may be reduced under one or other of the foregoing heads; and, in any case, all imagery will be found to consist in the use of concrete to help out concrete, in the impinging of the mind, so to speak, while dealing with one concrete circumstance against other and other concrete circumstances. Now, as the very essence of the poet consists in the incessant imagination of concrete circumstance, a language rich in imagery is in itself a proof of the possession of poetical faculty in a high degree. Cæteris paribus, that is, where there is an equal amount of imagination and of the same quality, in the bodying forth of the main circumstance of a poem or a poetical passage – whether that is a circumstance of visible scenery, of incident, of physiognomy, or of mental state – the more of subsidiary circumstance evolved in intellectual connexion with the main one the higher the evidence of poetical power. There is an analogy, in this respect, between poetical and scientific writers. Some scientific writers, as, for example, Locke, attend so rigorously to the main thought they are pursuing as to give to their style a kind of nakedness and iron straightness; others, as, for example, Bacon, without being indifferent to the main thought, are so full of intellectual matter of all kinds that they enrich every sentence with a detritus of smaller propositions related to the one immediately on hand. So with poets. Some poets, as Keats, Shakespeare, and Milton in much of his poetry, so teem with accumulated concrete circumstance, or generate it so fast, as their imagination works, that every imagined circumstance as it is put forth from them takes with it an accompaniment of parasitic fancies. Others, as the Greek dramatists and Dante, sculpture their thoughts roundly and massively in severe outline. It seems probable that the tendency to excess of imagery is natural to the Gothic or Romantic as distinct from the Hellenic [327] or Classical imagination; but it is not unlikely that the fact that poetry is now read instead of being merely heard, as it once was, has something to do with it. As regards the question when imagery is excessive, when the richness of a poet's language is to be called extravagance, no general principle can be laid down. The judgment on this point in each case must depend on the particular state of the case. A useful distinction, under this head, might possibly be drawn between the liberty of the poet and the duty of the artist. Keats's Endymion, one might safely, in reference to such a distinction, pronounce to be too rich; for in that poem there is no proportion between the imagery, or accessory concrete, and the main stem of the imagined circumstance from which the poem derives its name. In the Eve of St. Agnes, on the other hand, there is no such fault.

Of verse, as connected with poetry, various theories have been given. Wordsworth, whose theory is always more narrow than his practice, makes the rationale of verse to consist in this, that it provides for the mind a succession of minute pleasurable surprises in addition to the mere pleasure communicated by the meaning. Others regard the use of verse as consisting in its power to secure the attention of the reader or hearer. Others regard it as a voluntary homage of the mind to law as law, repaid by the usual rewards of disinterested obedience. Mr. Dallas sets these and other theories aside, and puts the matter on its right basis. Verse is an artificial source of pleasure; it is an incentive to attention, or a device for economizing attention; and it is an act of obedience to law if you choose so to regard it. All these, however, are merely statements respecting verse as something already found out and existing; not one of them is a theory of verse in its origin and nature. Such a theory, if it is to be sought for at all, must clearly consist in the assertion of this, as a fundamental fact of nature, that, when the mind of man is either excited to a certain pitch, or engaged in a certain kind of exercise, its transactions adjust themselves, in a more express manner than usual, to time as meted out in beats or intervals. Mr. Dallas, giving to the statement its most transcendental form, says that the rationale of metre is to be deduced from the fact that Time being, according to Kant, but a leading form of sense, must fall under the law of imagination, the faculty representative of sense. Quite independent of this philosophic generalization, which it would at least require much time to work down for the ordinary market, there are many facts, some of which Mr. Dallas very acutely points out, all tending to indicate the existence of such a law as we have referred to. The swinging of a student to and fro in his chair, during a fit of cogitation, the oratorical see-saw, the evident connexion [328] of mental states with the breathings and the pulse-beats, the power of the tick-tick of a clock to induce reverie, and of the clinkum-clankum of a bell to make the fool think words to it, are all instances of the existence of such a law. Nay, the beginnings of poetical metre itself are to be traced in speech far on this side of what is accounted poetry. There is a visible tendency to metre in every articulate expression of strong feeling; and the ancient Greeks, we are told, used to amuse themselves with scanning passages in the speeches of their great orators. Without trying to investigate this point farther, however, we would simply refer to a consideration connected with it, which seems important for our present purpose. The law, as stated hypothetically, is, that the mind, either when excited to a certain pitch, or when engaged in a particular kind of exercise, takes on, in its transactions, a marked concordance with time as measured by beats. Now, whether is it the first or the second mental condition that necessitates this concordance? Poetry we have all along defined as a special mode of intellectual exercise, possible under all degrees of emotional excitement – the exercise of the mind imaginatively, or in the figuring forth of concrete circumstance. Is it, then, poetry, as such, that requires metre, or only poetry by virtue of the emotion with which it is in general accompanied, that emotion either preceding and stimulating the imaginative action, or being generated by it, as heat is evolved by friction? The question is not an easy one. On the whole, however, we incline to the belief that, though poetry and passion, like two inseparable friends that have taken up house together, have metre for their common servant, it is on passion, and not on poetry, that metre holds by legal tenure. The very reasons we adduce for thinking so will show that the question is not a mere metaphysical quibble. These are, that metre is found, in its highest and most decided form, in lyrical poetry, or the poetry of feeling; narrative poetry having less, and dramatic poetry still less of it; and that, wherever, in the course of a poem, there is an unusual metrical boom and vigour, the passage so characterized will be found to be one not so much of pure concrete richness, as of strong accompanying passion. What, then, if song, instead of being, as common language makes it, the complete and developed form of poetry, should have to be philosophically defined as the complete and developed form of oratory, passing into poetry only in as far as passion, in its utterance, always seizes and whirls with it shreds and atoms of imagined circumstance? If this is the true theory, verse belongs, by historical origin, to oratory, and lingers with poetry only as an entailed inheritance. Prose, then, may, as we have said, make inroads upon that region of the literature of the con[329]crete which has hitherto been under the dominion of verse. But, on the other hand, verse, whatever it may have been in its origin, exists now, like many other sovereignties, by right of expediency, constitutional guarantee, and the voluntary submission of those who are its subjects. And here it is that the theories of Wordsworth and others have their proper place. They are theories of verse, not in its origin, but in its character as an existing institution in the literature of the concrete. They tell us what we can now do intellectually by means of verse, which we could not do if her royalty were abolished. They point to the fact, that in literature, as in other departments of activity, law and order, and even the etiquette of exquisite artificial ceremonial, though they may impose intolerable burthens on the disaffected and the boorish, are but conditions of liberty and development to all higher, and finer, and more cultured natures. In short, (and this is the important fact,) metre, rhyme, and the like, are not only devices for the sweet and pleasurable conveyance of the poet's meaning after it is formed; they are devices assisting beforehand in the creation of that meaning; devices so spurring and delighting the imagination, while they chafe and restrain it, that its thoughts and combinations in the world of concrete circumstance are more rich, more rare, more occult, more beautiful, and more incomprehensible, than they would otherwise be. Like the effect of the music on the fountain and the company of Bacchanals in Tennyson's strange vision, is the effect of verse on poetical thought.

"Then methought I heard a mellow sound,
 Gathering up from all the lower ground;
 Narrowing in to where they sat assembled,
 Low, voluptuous music winding trembled,
 Wov'n in circles: they that heard it sigh'd,
 Panted hand in hand with faces pale,
 Swung themselves, and in low tones replied,
 Till the fountain spouted, showering wide
 Sleet of diamond-drift and pearly hail."

But here we must stop our discussions on the Theory of Poetry. For much that we have left undiscussed, and especially for a philosophical division of poetry according to its kinds, we must refer to Mr. Dallas. We feel, indeed, that we have hardly acted the proper part of a host in having already taken so much of the talk to ourselves. Possibly, however, some of the passages we had marked for quotation from Mr. Dallas's book, may have already come before our readers. In any case, we recommend his book highly and cordially. There is perhaps a stronger dash of what may be called Okenism in his style of speculation, [330] than some readers may like; as, for example, in his systematic laying out of everything into corresponding threes or triads. Thus, poetry figures throughout his treatise as a compound result of three laws – the law of unconsciousness, the law of harmony, and the law of imagination; which laws are supreme respectively in three kinds of poetry – lyrical poetry, epic poetry, and dramatic poetry; which three kinds of poetry, again, correspond historically with Eastern, primitive, or divine art, Grecian, antique, or classical art, and Western, modern, or romantic art; which historical division, again, corresponds philosophically with such trinities as these – I, he, you; time future, time past, time present; immortality, God, freedom; the good, the true, the beautiful. All this, stated thus abruptly and without explanation, may seem more hopeless sort of matter to some than it would to us; but even they will find in the book much that will please them, in the shape of shrewd observation, and lucid and deep criticism, valuable on its own account, and very different from what used to be supplied to the last age by critics like Hazlitt.


Having been so long engaged in discussing the principles of poetry in connexion with a book devoted to the investigation of them, it would be hard if we had not already done a part of the work that would have devolved upon us if we had taken up Mr. Smith's poems alone for review; and if, in the few pages which remain, we should not be able to assume all necessary general principles as granted, and to address ourselves strictly to the consideration of Mr. Smith's merits and quality as a poet.

In the first place, then, we have to say of Mr. Smith, on the evidence of the present volume, that, whether poet or no poet, he is, at least, not an intellectual weakling. There is a strength, and fervour, and vehement humanity about him, which it is refreshing to find in a young writer, whether poet or not, in these days of prim, and nerveless, and monosyllabic literature. He does not seem to be a bigot about trifles, or to concern himself with investigations relating to pins and needles and social minutiæ; but to have his head full of thoughts, such as he has been able to make for himself, or to get from friends and books, respecting what may be called the larger entities of the world – life, death, ambition, love, poetry; stars shining, seas roaring. What his education may have been we do not need particularly to know. The days are past in which people used to make prodigies of uneducated poets; and probably the educational opportunities of Mr. Smith, as a reading and thinking Scotchman, have been at least as good and as extensive, even in a scholastic sense, as those of Keats, and half the literary men of England [331] now alive, whom no one ever thinks of calling uneducated because they cannot read Greek, and know very little of mathematics. On the score of education, we should suppose, setting aside the totally different consideration of place and mode of livelihood, Mr. Smith is perfectly on a level with the larger proportion of those who, in England, write novels, paint pictures, and edit newspapers. We assure our English friends that there are a great many strong-headed and well-informed young men in the counting-houses and warehouses of Glasgow; that they have a good many of the London ideas, and some of their own besides; and that the true notion to start with about Alexander Smith, is not that he is a poet asking any favour from the critics on the plea of deficient education, but that he is one of those said young men of Glasgow, who, to the admiration, we have no doubt, of a circle of appreciating companions, has stepped out conspicuously into the field of British Literature. Among these friends, we should suppose, he is known very much as we have fancied him – as a man of genial aspirations, and of good round energetic thought about things in general, rather than of precision about a limited number of small points. At all events this is the impression made by his book. Take a passage or two where the thought of the author – the kind of intellectual train he is apt to follow, and the kind of moral mood he is apt to fall into – may be seen, as much as possible, apart from the specific element of his poetical genius.

"To-day a chief was buried – let him rest.
 His country's bards are up like larks, and fill
 With singing the wide heavens of his fame.
 To-night I sit within my lonely room;
 The atmosphere is full of misty rain;
 Wretched the earth and heaven."

Not bad this from a young poet sitting alone in his room in Glasgow, on the evening of the day on which the Duke of Wellington was buried. Apart altogether from the fine poetical expression of the second and third lines, we have here the evidence of a mind that can be sulky on a great scale, and surround even such a big circumstance as a nation all agog about a hero's death, with the contrasted commentary of its own humour.

"Be brave and strong through all thy wrestling years;
 A brave soul is a thing which all things serve."

The mind that can fashion and fling out a strong saying like this, must have a personal interest in its truth.

"How frequent in the very thick of life
 We rub clothes with a fate that hurries past!
 [332] A tiresome friend detains us in the street;
 We part, and, turning, meet fate in our teeth;
 A moment more or less had 'voided it."

Put these words, in the plainest prose, anywhere; and they will still stand as a strong bold thought, boldly yet accurately expressed. Again, take the following, by way of sneering summary of what people expect from steam, railways, and telegraphs.

"Paradise, according to the world,
 Is scarce a league ahead."

In short, out of almost every page, lines and passages might be selected, shewing, apart from any poetical faculty exhibited in the mode of expression, a strong, serious, decisive intellect, with a good store of thoughts about matters of general interest, and a power of clear sarcasm when it likes. The following passage may stand as a more extensive specimen of Mr. Smith's notions of things, as apart from his poetry. The subject is poetry itself, its functions and prospects – a favourite topic with this poet. The passage, in short, is Mr. Smith's delineation, by the mouth of one of his dramatic personages, of that long-expected and much-described phenomenon, the poet of the future.

"My friend! a poet must ere long arise,
 And with a regal song sun-crown this age,
 As a saint's head is with a halo crowned; –
 One, who shall hallow poetry to God
 And to its own high use – for poetry is
 The grandest chariot wherein king-thoughts ride; –
 One, who shall fervent grasp the sword of song,
 As a stern swordsman grasps his keenest blade,
 To find the quickest passage to the heart; –
 A mighty poet whom this age shall choose
 To be its spokesman to all coming times.
 In the ripe full-blown season of his soul,
 He shall go forward in his spirit's strength,
 And grapple with the questions of all time,
 And wring from them their meanings.   As King Saul
 Called up the buried prophet from his grave
 To speak his doom, so shall this poet-king
 Call up the dead Past from its awful grave
 To tell him of our future.   As the air
 Doth sphere the world, so shall his heart of love –
 Loving mankind, not peoples.   As the lake
 Reflects the flower, tree, rock, and bending heaven,
 Shall he reflect our great humanity.
 And as the young spring breathes with living breath
 On a dead branch, till it sprouts fragrantly
 [333] Green leaves and sunny flowers, shall he breathe life
 Through every theme he touch, making all Beauty
 And Poetry for ever, like the stars."

Now in this passage, viewed as the exposition of a thought, such as Mr. Smith would himself own, we have both an indication of his sentimental fervour, and a measure of his intellectual crudeness. The fervour of the passage no one can deny; and a mind that can feel about poetry in such a strain of enthusiasm, is one rich in promise. But, intellectually, the passage is a crudity, a piece of immature thought, and that too of a rather inferior quality, when very closely investigated. The poet of the future never will be, never can be, such a being as is here described – setting the age to music, wringing from all questions their meanings, and what not. Nature and the relations of things forbid it. Homer was not such a being; Shakespeare was not such a being; and even if you roll together into one man any possible philosopher of the future, and any possible political conqueror, with the best possible poet to boot, you will not arrive at the required individual. True, there are lineaments of the poet in the description; but as a whole, it is like the pictures of the lion one sees hung outside show-waggons to attract the crowd in – plenty of colour and fierceness, and awfully suggestive of lions, but yet not at all like the real animal. Seen after the picture, indeed, the real animal might at first disappoint; he is a calmer, smaller, less rampant and more defined kind of creature, and one has to see him roused to know all that is in him. In short, the above passage is "painting with the big brush;" and Mr. Smith will learn, as his thoughts work themselves out into precision and proportion, to paint less in that common manner. When Shakespeare speaks of the poet, or when Tennyson speaks of him, their vision of what the poet really is, either historically or in himself, is, with all their fondness for the theme, far clearer and far more genuine.

We have quoted the foregoing passage out of a spirit of fairness, because we believe it to be intellectually the very crudest and poorest passage in Mr. Smith's book. And if so, it is clear that, as we said at the outset, he is intellectually no weakling. Read the passage again, and you will find that, though in the main the enthusiastic utterance of a juvenile commonplace, it is not all commonplace. And if such a passage, perhaps carelessly admitted by the author, is an author's worst, what might not that author's best be? Let the very continuation of the passage itself answer.

"His words set me on fire: I cried aloud,
 'Gods! what a portion to forerun this soul!'
 He grasped my hand – I looked upon his face–
 [334] A thought struck all the blood into his cheeks,
 Like a strong buffet.   His great flashing eyes
 Burned on mine own.   He said – 'A grim old king
 Whose blood leapt madly when the trumpets brayed
 To joyous battle 'mid a storm of steeds,
 Won a rich kingdom on a battle-day;
 But in the sunset he was ebbing fast,
 Ringed by his weeping lords.   His left hand held
 His white steed, to the belly splashed with blood,
 That seemed to mourn him with its drooping head;
 His right, his broken brand; and in his ear
 His old victorious banners flap the winds.
 He called his faithful herald to his side –
 'Go, tell the dead I come!'   With a proud smile,
 The warrior with a stab let out his soul,
 Which fled and shrieked through all the other world,
 'Ye dead, my master comes!'   And there was pause
 Till the great shade should enter.   Like that herald,
 Walter, I'd rush across the waiting world
 And cry, 'He comes.' "

This is noble writing, and it answers, by anticipation, our next question with respect to Mr. Smith. Poet, or no poet, we have seen he is no weakling: the next question is – strong or weak, is he a poet? The passage just quoted, we say, is a sufficient answer; but here is another. It describes an act of suicide at night on a hill-top near a great city, –

"'Twas late, for, as he reached the open roads,
 Where night was reddened by the drudging fires,
 The drowsy steeples tolled the hour of One.
 The city now was left long miles behind:
 A large black hill was looming 'gainst the stars:
 He reached its summit.   Far above his head
 God's name was writ in worlds. Awhile he stood
 Silent and throbbing like a midnight star.
 He raised his hands.   Alas! 'twas not in prayer –
 He long had ceased to pray.   'Father,' he said,
 'I wished to loose some music o'er Thy world,
 To strike from its firm seat some hoary wrong,
 And then to die in autumn with the flowers
 And leaves and sunshine I have loved so well.
 Thou might'st have smoothed my way to some great end. –
 But wherefore speak?   Thou art the mighty God.
 This gleaming wilderness of suns and worlds
 Is an eternal and triumphant hymn
 Chanted by Thee unto Thine own great self!
 Wrapt in Thy skies, what were my prayers to Thee?
 My pangs – my tears of blood?   They could not move
 Thee from the depths of Thine immortal dream.
 [335] Thou hast forgotten me, God.   Here, therefore, here,
 To-night upon this bleak and cold hill-side
 Like a forsaken watchfire will I die;
 And as my pale corse fronts the glittering night,
 It shall reproach Thee before all Thy worlds.'
         His death did not disturb that ancient Night.
 Scornfullest Night!   Over the dead there hung
 Great gulfs of silence, blue, and strewn with stars–
 No sound, no motion, in the eternal depths."

This is daring, almost to the limit of the lawful; but the words are not more solemn than the mood in which the author has written them. And, in any case, such a passage is decisive at least of the fact, that the author is a poet, and a poet of no common order. This will be the popular verdict, as it must be the verdict of even the most severe and fastidious critics, if they really know what poetry is. For Mr. Smith is not one of those poets who demand the "audience fit though few," – a demand proper enough in many cases, but often the sign of a conscious defect. His claims, however, to be regarded as a true poet, need not rest on the strong impression that must be universally made by such detached passages as those which we have quoted. If we take, for example, the theory of poetical genius which we have been expounding, and which, we believe, is identical, in the main, with all that is vaguely felt on the subject by some, and more explicitly stated by others, there is scarcely a volume from which a greater number of passages could be selected, illustrative of that theory. The poet, we have said, is "of imagination all compact;" his peculiarity is that he cogitates in a language of concrete circumstance – that, whatever meaning lies in his mind, that meaning takes the form not of abstract proposition, but of some imagined scene, object, or incident, or some imagined tissue of scenes, objects, and incidents. Apply this to Mr. Smith, and every page will furnish an example in point. Thus, he thinks of the effects of daily intercourse with the common world upon a good and lofty mind, and the thought phrases itself thus: –

"Although the ocean's inmost heart be pure,
 Yet the salt fringe that daily licks the shore
 Is gross with sand."

Again, speaking of a friendship accidentally formed with a young poet, –

                        "An opulent soul
Dropt in my path like a great cup of gold,
All rich and rough with stories of the gods."

[336] In speaking of two lovers made for each other, the phrase is that they were

"Matched like cymbals fine."

Even one sight becomes another sight in the language of the poet.

"That night the sky was heaped like clouds;
 Through one blue gulf profound,
 Begirt with many a cloudy crag,
 The moon came rushing like a stag,
 And one star like a hound."

Young ambition unnerved by despondence, is thus allegorized in circumstance, –

                        "My drooping sails
Flap idly 'gainst the mast of my intent;
I rot upon the waters, when my prow
Should grate the golden isles."

The coming on of evening has been often described; but Mr. Smith can describe it again, –

                        "Repentant day
Frees with his dying hand the pallid stars
He held imprisoned since his young hot dawn."

"Three days and two nights had elapsed, when" – how does a poet translate such common words as these? –

                        "Three blue days passed,
Full of the sun, loud with a thousand larks;
An evening like a grey child walked 'tween each."

The following, expressing the certainty of oblivion for all things, is to us one of the finest, though simplest, passages in the book: –

                        "That largest Son of Time
Who wandered singing through the listening world,
Will be as much forgot as the canoe
That crossed the bosom of a lonely lake
A thousand years ago."

These are but a few out of a hundred instances that might be quoted, all shewing, in a most express manner, the possession of the true poetical faculty – the faculty of thinking in the language of concrete circumstance. It may be said that such passages consist at best but of fine images, metaphors, similes, and the like, and that they ought to be referred to only as illustrating Mr. Smith's fertility in imagery, the occasional richness of his [337] style. We have already replied to any such remark. An image is rightly so named; it is, as it were, the poet's molecule of thought – the imagination caught and arrested in one instant of its activity. Mr. Smith seems to be perfectly conscious of this. In describing two young friends, both poets, whose habit it was to walk out together, and enjoy each other's converse, and watch the evening landscapes and the aspects of their native city at night, he makes the narrator say, –

                        "But our chief joy
Was to draw images from everything;
And images lay thick upon our talk,
As shells on ocean-sands."

The lady to whom the poet imparts this in confidence is evidently struck by it; for she challenges him on the spot to a display of the skill he hints himself to have thus acquired.

   "Violet   From everything?
Here is the sunset; yonder grows the moon;
What image would you draw from these?
   Walter.                         Why, this? –
The sun is dying, like a cloven king
In his own blood, the while the distant moon,
Like a pale prophetess, whom he has wronged,
Leans eager forward, with most hungry eyes
Watching him bleed to death; and, as he faints
She brightens and dilates.   Revenge complete,
She walks in lonely triumph through the night."

This is a glimpse, afforded by a poet, into the technic of poetry; and we have an idea that the whole passage is autobiographic, and that one of the two friends described is Mr. Smith himself. If this be true, it might account for Mr. Smith's excessive fondness for images, and for his lavish facility in them, as well as for a certain sameness in the material of his images, to which we shall have soon to advert. It cannot be said, however, that it is only in such casual images as we have quoted that Mr. Smith shews his poetic faculty. The two longer passages which we have already quoted, will stand as sufficient examples of his imaginative power on a larger scale than that of the mere subsidiary or way-side image – the one as an example of his power of imagining historical incident, the other of his power of imagining scenery, incident, and state of feeling combined. We will add another example. Here is Mr. Wilmott, a rich English squire, and a view of his estate: –

"Old Mr. Wilmott, nothing in himself
 But rich as ocean.   He has in his hand
 Sea-marge and moor, and miles of stream and grove,
 [338] Dull flats, scream-startled, as the exulting train
 Streams, like a meteor, through the frighted night,
 Wind-billowed plains of wheat, and marshy fens,
 Unto whose reeds, on midnights blue and cold,
 Long strings of geese come clanging from the stars."

Throughout the poem, which forms the main portion of the contents of the present volume, there will be found many such separate bits of description and picture, shewing that Mr. Smith's imagination is at home in almost all the more important kinds of circumstance known to the poets, – circumstance of colour, of form, of extended space, of incident, of physiognomy, and of human feeling. Indeed, the great fault of the poem is that it is composed of separate pieces, and does not seem to be in itself, as a whole, a complete and coherent act of the imagination. The title, A Life Drama, besides being unfortunate, as suggestive of a certain hackneyed pseudo-transcendentalism in language, like the words "seeker" and "mission," as used by our American friends, is hardly justified by the actual matter of the poem. There is, indeed, an attempt, as in the Faust of Goethe and other poems, to make the poem a kind of sublimated biography, a phantasmagoric representation of a single life through a succession of phases. The composition professes to be an ideal history, in thirteen scenes or chapters, of the life of a young poet, named Walter, from its commencement in hope and inexperience, on through its period of storm and despair, to its consummation in peace and moral clearness. Now, as we have already said, a true allegory of the state of one's own mind in a representative history, whether narrative or dramatic in form, is perhaps the highest thing that one can attempt in the way of fictitious art. As such a history, Mr. Smith's Life Drama, though, in many respects, crude and common in invention, as, indeed, such a work by so young a writer could not but be, has certain real merits. But it is not compact and clearly imagined as a whole; and even a serious and attentive reader can find nothing very masterly or skilful in the poem, considered as a connected story, and not as a collection of poetical scenes and passages. We do not at all object to a certain haze, and indefiniteness as to time and locality, which Mr. Smith has thrown over the history, this being necessary to give to the poem that phantasmagoric character which ought to distinguish the sublimated or generalized histories of the poet from the ordinary prose narrative. But we think, that if, in any future poem, Mr. Smith were to make it his aim more thoroughly and coherently to imagine first of all the entire stem of incident and circumstance meant to constitute the poem from beginning to end, and then to attend to the parts and filling up, he would leave to many of his critics much less to be said against him.

[339] One remark we think it important to make, in this connexion, respecting Mr. Smith as a poet. Scotland is, of course, pleased at being able to reckon so promising a new poet as hers by right of birth – the more so as it is some time since her last celebrated poet, Campbell, died; and as, notwithstanding some high names on her list, she has not, during the last two centuries, been so prolific as England in considerable poets. This is very natural; but it ought, at the same time, to be distinctly recognised that, whatever he is by birth, Mr. Smith is not a Scottish poet, if we understand by that a poet of a certain supposed national type. It is not Scottish scenery, Scottish history, Scottish character, and Scottish social humours that he represents or depicts. Wallace, Bruce, the thistle, the Covenanters, the struggles of Presbyterianism – of all this, so long and so naturally the favourite kind of circumstance with poetical writers born north of the Tweed, seeing that it is the kind of circumstance possessed as peculiar by that part of Britain, Mr. Smith has very little. Nor is there any trace in him of that feeling of intense nationality so common in Scottish writers. Even his allusions to localities are not, in the main, Scottish. There is an allusion to Loch Lubnaig in one of the lyrical pieces in his Life Drama, and once or twice he seems voluntarily to carry his readers and the personages of his drama away into the lake-country and the rainy Highlands. We venture also to assert it, as a fact, that Glasgow and its neighbourhood may be discerned as, more than any other part of the island, the actual region referred to and painted from in his visual phantasmagories. Throughout the whole poem, we are again and again reminded of some

"Thousand-streeted and smoke-smothered town" –

the home of the poet, forth from which he walks to enjoy the breezy hills, and from whose heart at night he looks up to the eternal stars. This, to speak literally, is Glasgow. And, then, in such descriptions as the following, who that has ever sailed in a steamer from Glasgow to Bute or Arran, or walked about Dunoon and the Holy Loch in rainy weather, but will recognise scenery all but peculiar to Clydeside in that kind of weather?

"I see a wretched isle that ghost-like stands,
     Wrapt in its mist-shroud in the wintry main;
 And now a cheerless gleam of red-ploughed lands,
     O'er which a crow flies heavy in the rain."

Islands and the sea round them, hills, clayey lands, and dull sobbing rains – where, in Britain, is circumstance of this kind so native as in the region west from Glasgow? And this is a kind [340] of circumstance in the representation of which Mr. Smith's imagination delights, and is at home. Let the clouds pass away, too, and the sun come out, and all the brighter poetry of that beautiful region of Scotland, from the pure blue heaven above, the expanse of sea around, and the looming hills opposite, down to the very fuchsia-bushes with their red bells which form the garden-hedges, and the pebbles and tangle, among which the sea hisses to your feet, is transferred with equal ease into Mr. Smith's verse.

But, after all, this is necessary, rather than intentional; and if Glasgow and its neighbourhood are in the poem, Mr. Smith does not tell you so. London, a green lane in Kent, an English forest, an English manor-house – these are the scenes where the real business of the drama is transacted; and if reference is made to what seems Scottish scenery and locality in the course of the story, it is incidentally, and as an Englishman might recollect what he saw during a Highland tour. Indeed, the most express allusion to Scottish locality and Scottish social incident occurring in the course of the volume, comes from the mouth of a boisterous young Englishman, singing a drunken song: –

"I've drunk 'mong slain deer in a lone mountain shieling,
               I've drunk till delirious,
               While rain beat imperious,
 And rang roof and rafter with bagpipes and reeling.
 I've drunk in Red Rannoch, amid its grey boulders,
               Where, fain to be kist,
               Through his thin scarf of mist,
 Ben-More to the sun heaves his wet shining shoulders."

The poet himself, as some passages already quoted may have suggested, seems rather to have a tendency the other way, viz., to recollections or imaginations of English scenery and incident, wherever locality is specified at all. Thus: –

"Our studious Edward, from his Lincoln fens,
 And home quaint-gabled hid in rooky trees."

And, again, almost forswearing the Thistle for the Rose, and that, too, in a poem where he speaks in his own name: –

"Most brilliant star upon the crest of Time
 Is England.   England! Oh, I know a tale
 Of those far summers when she lay in the sun,
 Listening to her own larks, with growing limbs
 And mighty hands, which since have tamed the world,
 Dreaming about their tasks."

This is a declaration in so many words that it is in English history, and not specially in Scottish history, that the imagination of our new poet is interested. So we interpret, at least; [341] and certainly there is not one allusion to Bruce or Wallace throughout the volume. Indeed, for all that the present volume indicates, Mr. Alexander Smith might be an Englishman residing in Glasgow.

Now, all this is as it should be. Scotticism, if it is to exist and play a part as an element in general British literature, must do so in the form of a subjective variety, access, or concentration of feeling and intellectual method, and not in the form any longer of incessant allusion to objective Scottish circumstance. It is not probable that Scotland will have any more poets of mark after the national type of Burns and Scott. The literature of Scotchmen must consist no longer in exclusive, or even habitual representation of Scottish scenes, Scottish incidents, Scottish humours. As Scotland abandons her own dialect for literary purposes, she must abandon the matter of concrete action transacted of yore, and still being transacted, exclusively in that dialect. Scottish history, indeed, must still be investigated, Scottish society studied, Scottish thought in religion and in philosophy expounded and vindicated; and that, too, by Scotchmen as being best qualified for the work. There will still also be a Scottish literary vein, and a literature genial and pleasant to Scotchmen, as a separate section of the British people. But in Scottish literary activity, in the larger sense of the word, the Scotticism henceforward must be subjective. It must be Scotticism, if Scotticism at all, working not in the smaller element of Scottish, but in the larger element of British circumstance. We deem it, therefore, an extremely significant fact, that Mr. Smith should, consciously or unconsciously, have sworn nominal allegiance to the Rose rather than to the Thistle. This is more than a happy circumstance for his own fame. It is significant of that gradual identification of Scotland with England intellectually, which has been so long in following the political and commercial union of the two countries. And it is a curious fact, equally significant of the same thing from the other side, that while Mr. Smith and other Scotchmen are doing homage to the Rose in literature, Englishmen of late have been most assiduous in doing homage to the Thistle. Witness, among other proofs, Mr. Kingsley's writings, Mr. Clough's Hexameter poem, and Miss Mulock's novels.

We have mentioned, as one of Mr. Smith's peculiarities, a certain sameness of imagery, or at least a certain recurrence again and again to the same sources of imagery. This is the great point of offence between Mr. Smith and the critics. It has been most emphatically insisted on, though, we think, in a very unfair manner, by a critic in the Examiner newspaper. Mr. Smith, it is said, is always in the company of the sea, and the [342] stars, and a certain number of other select entities; and can never be brought away from them. In every page we have the stars and the sea, with the occasional variation of the sea and the stars. There is, we believe, no reader of Mr. Smith's volume but must have been struck with the peculiarity thus magnified and ridiculed by the adverse critics. As the ancient orators had certain established rhetorical "topics," as they were called, that is, certain established modes of turning a subject over in their minds, from which, at a moment's notice, they could draw arguments on any subject, so Mr. Smith has certain poetical "topics," furnishing him, at any time, with poetical illustrations and images. We have been at the trouble to make out for ourselves a list of the more important of Mr. Smith's poetical "topics." They are these – the Night, either alone, or with the stars when wanted, or the moon when wanted; the Sea, either in unbroken expanse, or with a shore, generally the shore of an island, to caress; Ships at sea, in all conditions; dull, drizzling Rain, soaking the earth; Love, generally in the form of amorousness; Friendship; Poesy; and Marc Anthony. Of these topics, it will be seen, four are physical; three are from the moral or intellectual world; and one is historical. It is unnecessary to accumulate passages to show the abundant use which Mr. Smith makes of these "topics." The images from the stars and the sea might be counted by scores, and have been collected in dozens by other critics; the Rain falls very frequently; and under the "topic" of Marc Anthony, which we do not think the critics have noticed, we find in our own list at least five passages. Here they are: –

"Anthony once, when seated with his queen," &c. – P. 5.
                                     "O, Marc Anthony,
 With a fine scorn did toss your world away
   For Cleopatra's lips." – P. 40.
"Why, there was one who might have topped all men,
 Who bartered joyously for a single smile
 This empired planet with its load of crowns,
 And thought himself enriched." – P. 72.
           "Gods! I could out-Anthony
 Anthony! This moment I could scatter
 Kingdoms like halfpence," – P. 165.
"Leander toiling through the moonlight brine,
 Kingdomless Anthony, were scarce my peers." – P. 235.

There are one or two minor "topics" which we could mention; but the above are the chief.

Now, although we have adverted to this peculiarity of Mr. Smith, we have done so not as sympathizing with those who have made a mock of it. It is easy to make a mock of anything, and particularly easy to mock in a case like this. But Mr. Smith [343] cannot give up the stars and the sea – no poet can – without ceasing to be a poet. The starry night, the sea, love, friendship, and the like, are the largest entities in the real world and in real experience; they bear the largest proportion in bulk to the whole real universe; why should they bear a smaller proportion in the universe of the poet? Whoever does not think, ay, and speak, more of the stars than of roses, that man's soul lives in a conservatory; whoever does not think and speak more of the sea than of his inkstand, that man's soul lives in a counting-house. Part of the greatness of the old Greek poets, as compared with some modern poets, consisted in this, that they had a more proportioned eye for the objects and presences of nature, speaking less of the wings of insects and the interior of blue-bells, and more of the sky, the hills, and the roar of the Ægean. Let not Mr. Smith mind the critics very much in this matter. If they plague him much more on the point of his "topics," we advise him to retaliate by a satire. If what the critics have said, however, shall have the effect of inducing him to extend the list of his "topics," so as to diminish somewhat the impression of sameness in his imagery, well and good. For our part, though we think the world has had more splendid men in it than Marc Anthony, we withdraw our veto on the use of that Roman's name, whenever it may be poetically convenient to mention him. Only we suspect Mr. Smith's liking for Anthony proceeds from a latent longing for the society of Cleopatra.

Proceeding in the order of our theoretical exposition we should now have to say something on these three points relating to Mr. Smith as a poet – his prevalent moral mood or emotional key; his style as a writer; and his versification. The passages we have quoted, however, will already have conveyed a distinct impression on each and all of these points. Mr. Smith, it will have been observed, is no calm unperturbed poet, with imagination lax, cold, and leisurely, weaving together sensuous phantasies for the mere pleasure of the exercise. Nor is he a contemplative poet, like Wordsworth. He is a poet highly impassioned, touched with fire and feeling, and allegorizing a state of mind natural to strong and manly, and yet unsatisfied youth. A discontent, a sorrow not untinged with sarcasm, breathes through his verse. Yet he is never ungenial, never entirely Byronic. Nor, in any true sense, is Mr. Smith's poetry morally unhealthy. It was unfortunate that some lines of his which came first before the public created a wrong impression in this respect. Better founded than any such charge against his moral tone, might be an attack on his taste in style, and on his versification. That Mr. Smith can write clearly, simply, powerfully, and beautifully, and that he has an ear for what is [344] noble and musical in verse, the passages we have quoted are sufficient to prove. But that he is sometimes rough, crude, unpolished, and unmelodious, may be seen also from the same passages. Other passages, too, we might quote, showing that he is not unfrequently guilty of positive inelegance, of positive bad taste both in thought and in style. Other critics, however, have done this for us; and the task is not a gracious one.

On the whole, then, we think Mr. Smith a true poet, and a poet of no common order. We place him on the slope of Parnassus within sight of Keats and Tennyson, as our two latest and best of preceding poets. We say "within sight" at present, because he has written but little, and we do not wish to be too sure in anticipating the future. He has some of the characteristics of each of these poets; but he is not like either. He is, we believe, thoroughly original in the style of his genius, and his originality may yet carry him far. He will have plenty of advice; which will do him all the more good that he will not take it. To "prune," and to "study the best models," are advices at least as old as Jeffrey. Interpreted by each one for himself, they are very good advices yet. For ourselves, our advices to Mr. Smith, in addition to the mere general advice to take his own way, and to get on as fast as he can in it, would be – that in any future poem he may write, he should preconceive and preconstruct the plan or scheme as a whole, more thoroughly than he has done in the present; that he should extend his range of circumstance as widely as possible, cultivating skill in physiognomy, in incident, and in character, as well as in scenery, and power over the real as well as power in the ideal; and, lastly, that he should give his days and nights to the attainment of perfection in literary form. In this last respect Tennyson will be his best model. With what fastidiousness does this great poet mould his language and polish his verse! Let Mr. Smith imitate so good example. Even such an art as that of punctuation is not be despised. We do not know whose fault it is, but the present volume is very badly punctuated.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The North British Review.
1853, August, S. 297-344.
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000553081


Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).





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