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We are not about to enter on any denunciation of those who have perverted poetry to purposes or propensities of an unworthy nature, and have attempted to lend a new or an additional impulse to self-indulgence, by those graces and embellishments which were intended to adorn the awful form of virtue, and render her features more familiar and more attractive. We are not disposed to think that the influence of such writers is so extensively or so enduringly pernicious, as might at first be thought. We, indeed, consider that it is idle and unjust to declaim in this respect against the perversions of genius, or to exhort the true poet to employ his powers on such objects only as are glorious to himself, and profitable to his species. We doubt whether genius can exist at all, at least genius of a high class, without carry. ing in its own constitution a practical security against error and vice. There can be no great genius without an ardent longing, and an inextinguishable preference, for what is truly beautiful: and no highly endowed spirit can fail to see almost intuitively that virtue is beauty, and vice deformity. All the better parts of our nature-all the nobler views of our destiny-must have a charm in the eyes of the true poet which never can adorn their opposites. They must be more delightful as objects of contemplation-more inspiring and more satisfying as subjects of representation and developement. If we could conceive a painter, with an exquisite sense of form and colouring, who yet preferred to delineate the lifeless desert or the sickly swamp, before the fertile valley or the heaven-kissing hill; or whose human figures more readily exhibited the loathsonieness of disease and decay, than the purple light of health and happiness we should imagine an anomaly something akin to that of a great poet, whose sensibility and enthusiasm were yet content to dwell on themes of frivolity and folly, to the exclusion of what was truly noble and touching in human character.
It is not our object here to inquire, in connexion with this view, in what manner some of the greatest poets have been led to devote a part of their powers to subjects of levity and license. Perhaps, in reference to the age and people whom they addressed, even this lowering of their tone was necessary or serviceable to the perfect success of their mighty mission. The greatest poets, we are inclined to think, ought to embody in themselves the image both of the real and of the ideal world, to enable them the more effectually to convert the sensual vulgarities of the one into the spiritual sublimities of the other. Not without a profound and important meaning of this nature, is the glorious description of his own power by the noblest and wisest of his brotherhood :
“ The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven."
Heaven must be the first object of its contemplation; but on the earth too, and on all objects of earthly interest, its glance must rest, till from this meaner world it is able to raise and refine its earthly disciples to an aptness for that region from which its power is derived, and in which its purposes terminate. The ribald or the rustic, who should be allured, by the merriment of Shakspeare's buffoons or of Chaucer's churls, to obtain even a glimpse of those exquisite revelations of purity and goodness to which these blemishes seem so strangely united, would prove to us the magic efficacy of those master minds,
who, from their universal sympathies, even with the failings of their species, were able, by winning their con:fidence, to promote their amendment more quickly and more completely than a more rigid and repulsive instructor could have done.
But the apparent anomaly we have glanced at is no exception to our proposition—that genius is essentially pure. No great poet ever attempted to embellish error or vice with the charms of poetry, or to practise those deceptions in morality which are alone dangerous. A great poet is as incapable of deceiving others by specious vices :or false combinations, as he is of being himself deceived - by: them. The wand of true genius is an Ithuriel's
“ No falsehood can endure Touch of celestial temper, but returns Of force to its own likeness."
When we are told, then, of any who waste their genius upon unworthy subjects, we are inclined to conclude that they are not in reality possessed of that genius which they are accused of degrading. We infer that they are destitute of those powers and faculties which would enable them to contemplate and to create what was beautiful and pure, and would necessarily secure their affections from wandering to objects of moral aversion.
In like manner, we are in general inclined to think that where genius exists, it must be accompanied by the power, and must feel the necessity, of giving a high finish in language and imagery to all its works. The love of the beautiful combined with the creative faculty, cannot fail to produce in comparative perfection the object that it loves and labours to realize. The powers of thought and of expression were never known to be separated in the authors of classical antiquity; and in like manner, in our own nation, the two faculties have always gone hand in hand. The genius of Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton, is not more exhibited in the greatness of their conceptions, than in the unimprovable felicity and beauty of their diction. Here, again, we are inclined to say, that slovenliness, or poverty of language, is not to be regarded as a result merely of carelessness, but as an indication of the absence of high genius.
It may be thought, that the remarks we are making are pitched on a key a great deal too high for the humble subject by which they have been suggested. But we cannot allow it to be said, that lyrical composition is to be measured by any different or lower rule than that which applies to other poetry. There is the same occasion and the same necessity for exhibiting genius in its true character in a few simple verses of a song, as in a much longer or more ambitious poem: and there are the same grounds for condemning in this department any attempt at poetry, which has not the pure and noble characteristics by which poetry always ought to be, and perhaps always is, distinguished.
The greatest poet of the present age has given us some, though not many, models of the species of composition of which we are now treating. We shall notice two of them as examples at once of deep feeling, of poetical power, and of finished composition. We do not doubt that these poems are to be ascribed to the class of songs, though we have not heard of their being united to music; and we suspect there is no living composer, οίοι νυν Βροσοι El0l, who could do justice to their character, and more particularly to the exquisite tenderness of the shortest and best.
The first of the two is a beautiful picture of a widowed heart seeking relief in a removal from the scenes of departed happiness, and finding that the softened sorrow of sincere affection finds its only enjoyment in a return to those objects which remind it of what it has lost.
“ Thy mornings show'd, thy nights conceald,
The bowers where Lucy play'd ;
Our next example needs no announcement to any of those to whom the name of Wordsworth or of poetry is dear. - She dwelt
the untrodden ways
And very few to love :
“ A violet by a mossy stone,
Half hidden from the eye !
Is shining in the sky.
" She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be ;
The difference to me!".
We would rather be the author of one noble and finished composition, like this of Wordsworth’s. than of an innumerable swarm of what the vulgar taste has called clever or charming songs-things with here and there a smart idea, and here and there a tolerable line, but for the most part consisting merely of disguised commonplace, or fanciful exaggeration, wrapped up in a threadbare dress of tawdry and tinselly language. The more we examine the beautiful lyric which we have just qunted, the more beautiful it will appear. It is simple in the extreme, without one word above the level of ordinary speech ; yet, from the innate nobility of the idea, how gracefully dignified, how powerfully pathetic ! A few plain words in the first verse introduce us at once to the sweet solitude of Lucy, a maid with few friends and no flatterers. The images in the second verse are new as they are beautiful, and are perfect poetical types of that lonely loveliness which they are intended to picture. Of the conclusion, it may perhaps be said, that it represents the sorrows of bereavement in the only way in which this can be perfectly done, by suggesting to the reader's mind the strength of their influence, from the impossibility of attempting to express them. This suppression of the utterance of profound grief has, we think, been aptly characterized as an example of the same high style of art which prompted Timanthes to veil the head of Agamemnon, in his picture of Iphigenia's sacrifice.
6. Non reperiens," as Quinctilian well expresses it, “quo dignè modo patris vultum posset exprimere, velavit ejus caput, et suo cuique animo dedit æstimanduin."
The lyrics of Moore are not of the same school as those we have just been examining. We have much respect