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and aspect of things around the lares of a Roman villa must have differed from the warm comforts of an Englishman's fireside.
“ O quid solutis est beatius curis,
Cum mens onus reponit, ac peregrino
Desideratoque acquiescimus lecto!” How much even these sweet lines have been excelled, on a similar theme, in the language of our own land, every one must feel, who can compare the pure egotism of Catullus with the nobler sympathies of Coleridge:
And now, beloved Stowey! I behold
babe's mother dwell in peace!
Fears in Solitude.
Variety of Style.
Diction in poetry, though employed expressly for the purpose of setting off the writer's thoughts in the most advantageous light, according to their character and the nature of the subject — but so as always to please, directly or indirectly, instantaneously or on reflection - diction, we observe, is capable of every variety of style, from the simplest to the most adorned ; from the most sprightly and conversational to the most sublime and severe. It is the practice of vulgar
versifiers, and also of many well-bred ones — nay, even of learned clerks, for academical poetry is peculiarly obnoxious to this censure to labour their diction into stiff and stately, or vapid and affected unintelligibility, by means of inverted syntax, erudite terms, and all the pedantry of circumlocution; presuming, that it must of course approach so much the nearer to verse as it is further removed from prose. The very contrary is the fact; the best verse most nearly resembles the best prose in the plainness of the words employed, the natural construction of the sentences, and the easy intelligence of the whole, where nothing is wanting, nothing superfluous, nothing out of place, out of season, or out of proportion; in short, where nothing is singular for the sake of singularity, or out of the ordinary course, except for extraordinary purposes.
Hobbes of Malmsbury, in the preface to his version of Homer, has a beautiful thought and comparison on this subject :- “The order of words, when placed as they ought to be, carries a light before it, whereby a man may foresee the length of his period; as a torch in the night showeth a man the stops and unevenness of
The theories of Mr. Wordsworth and the late Dr. Darwin deserve consideration here.
Mr. Wordsworth's Theory of Poetic Diction.
Among living authors, not one has shown greater command of diction than Mr. Wordsworth ; suiting his style to his subjects with consummate address,
though sometimes with unhappy effect, from the difficulty, not to say the impossibility, of making general readers partakers, by direct sympathy, with his peculiar experiences and imaginings, – that is, see with his eyes, hear with his ears, feel with his heart, and think with his mind, -possess them wholly with his own spirit, or for the time being absorb each of them into himself.
In an age of poetical innovations, Mr. Wordsworth has undoubtedly been one of the boldest and most successful adventurers. In the preface to his “ Lyrical Ballads,” — casting away at once, and entirely, all the splendid artifices of style, invented in the earliest ages of the fathers of poetry, and perpetuated among all classes of their successors, he avowed that “his principal object was, to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate and describe them throughout, as far as possible, in a selection of language really used by men ; and at the same time to throw
them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting, by tracing in them truly, though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature, chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement."
Now, however the poet's ingenuity in the advancement and vindication of his theory of phraseology may deserve commendation, and however just the theory may be, so far as his system would restrict the multitude of epithets and expletives which often
render verse too heavy for endurance, - we may reasonably protest against the unqualified rejection of those graces of diction (suitable to the elevation of enthusiastic thoughts equally above ordinary discourse and ordinary capacities), which essentially distinguish poetry from prose, and have been sanctioned by the successful usage of bards in every age and nation, civilised or barbarous, on which the light of song hath risen with its quickening, ennobling, and ameliorating influences. In dramatic works, assuredly, the writer, through all his characters, should speak the truth of living nature; the language of the strong passions should be stern, abrupt, sententious, and sublime; that of the gentler affections, ardent, flowing, figurative, and beautifully redundant; while, in both instances, every colour of expression, every form of thought which appeals to the imagination only, and touches not the heart, nor adds to the positive interest of the piece, should be rigorously proscribed. But in narrative, descriptive, and ethic poetry, I know no law of nature, and I will acknowledge none of art, that forbids Genius to speak his mother tongue, - a language (a dialect rather, of every distinct language) which, in sound and structure, as well as in character and sentiment, exalts itself far above any models of common speech; and yet, in simplicity, freedom, and intelligibility, according to the subject, equals the poorest and least ornamented prose.
Mr. Wordsworth allows a poet to be a person “ of more than usual organic sensibility;" and declares, that “ he must have thought long, to produce
poems to which any value can be attached.” With these admissions, we may fearlessly assert, that a poet – one who is really such — is no ordinary man; nor are his compositions the prompt and spontaneous expressions of his own every-day feelings. No; they are the most hidden ideas of his soul, discovered in his happiest moments, and apparelled in his selectest language. Will such a being, then, array the most pure, sublime, and perfect conceptions of his superior mind, in its highest fervour, only with “ the real language of men in a state of vivid excitement ?” Compare the lofty narratives of Milton, the luxuriant descriptions of Thomson, the solemn musings of Young; nay, even the soliloquies, and not unfrequently the dialogues, of Shakspeare, in which characters and passions are portrayed with unparalleled force and feeling compare
these with “ the real language of men in a state of vivid excitement," on the very same subjects, or in precisely the same situations, however animated, interested, or stimulated they may be. The fact is, that poetical sensibility will, on all occasions - except in the bold, brief, instinctive expression of the highest degree of agony or rapture — suggest language more lively, affecting, and fervent, yet not a whit less natural, than passion itself can inspire in minds less tremblingly alive to every touch of pain or pleasure. Hence the delight communicated by poetry is, in general, more intensely transporting than any that could be derived from the unassisted contemplation of the objects themselves, which are presented to us by
the magic of the author's art. Of that art his