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pauses of toil and prayer, with melodious music and sweet praise.
But more than this, as a matter of fact, we ask, is not our modern poetry finer than that of the classic world? With all Homer's beautiful descriptions and rugged power, is his kind of poetry comparable with that of Milton? Or can you place the solemn pictures of Eschylus beside the grand and beautiful realities of Shakspere? Tasso and Virgil may bear comparison, but then their ages are not so widely sundered. Taste, however, must decide these matters perhaps, and criticism will then be silenced.
It may be urged, however, against modern poetry, that it is obliged to seek for themes not belonging to it at all, and like the old Dutch painters, shows us the commonest utensils of the home, and the ugliest and oldest forms of human life, and demands our praise because of the skill of the representation. But this is to judge poetry by the eccentricities of poets, or the rhyming propensities of writers who are not poets at all, instead of by the manifest materials at the poet's command, and the capacities of real genius, and the inspirations of God. Because poets will stoop from their own natural sphere, and, having taken up some theory respecting their art, endeavour to prove its soundness, by giving to the world a flood of effusions only fit for the nursery, in which we suppose they find a beauty that none else can see, we do not recognise in this anything more than a perversion of the poet's aim. Beauty and sublimity are not ubiquitous; and if men, whose power it is to present these as they really exist, and draw them into view when they would otherwise escape notice, will endeavour to make them, or to conceive them present, where they do not exist, sentimentality or childish prose must be the result. Poetry cannot be written upon a theory by the efforts of the will; and wherever the experiment has been tried, it has signally failed. But surely because Wordsworth has written much doggerel, and Tennyson not entirely free from affectation, it does not follow that the resources of the poet in the present day are few and unfruitful; those two just named are noble examples to the contrary. For our own parts, putting the drama aside, with the exception of old Chaucer and Spenser, and our great epic poet, we find all our best works to be of
strictly modern date. What were Butler, Waller, Dryden, Addison, Pope, Johnson, Shenstone, or Akenside? Some of them admirable satirists, but hardly poets any of them, though correct metrical writers? Dyer, Gray, Collins, and Thomson, claim a higher rank, the first two especially. There must be an enthusiasm, a glow, an affluence of beautiful thought, and fancy, and feeling; to make a poet. Verse-writing and metre-measuring do not constitute the divine work. Prose-writing has often far more true poetry in it, than whole volumes of Pope or Dryden. Two qualifications are essential to the poet-fulness of thought, imagination, fancy, feeling; and freedom of harmonious expression. The putting rhymes together with some taste may be done by almost any lady of leisure as a pastime for the drawing-room. It is quite another thing to conceive and write what shall be true poetry. The conceiving and the expressing faculty, we say, are both requisite. In the highest poets they are wonderfully combined. In prose writers too, as they are termed, because there is no metrical arrangement of their words and sentences, we often find these combined faculties in great perfection. Many passages, e. g. from Mr. Ruskin's works, are in the highest sense poetical, the most beautiful and choice language being employed to express grand ideas with exquisite imagery. And yet this is called prose, and Hudibras, and the Pleasures of Imagination, and the Essay on Man, poetry. We wish some new classification, and new terms, could be introduced, giving its proper rank to poetical prose, and sinking to its proper level mere metrical composition, animated by no genius of the really poetical cast.
We have heard it maintained that poets may exist without any power of expression whatever: this we hold to be simply a contradiction in terms, because the mastery of language is so essential a part of the poetical faculty, that we include it in our definition of a poet. How is prose made poetical, but by the writer's possession of this same talent for giving choice words to his ideas? Many a person, doubtless, has a vague sensitiveness to the beauty, harmony, or sublime character of things around him, or of the human relations in which he stands ;-and because he can find no words in which to embody this sensitive apprehension, he flatters himself he is a poet without words. Why, if this feel
ing ceased to be vague, grew into a full conception, fed by the fire and genius within, words would be found, and according as they were adequate or inadequate to realize the full feeling and thought labouring within, would the poet be deemed able or otherwise. Doubtless these faculties exist in very different proportions in ordinary minds. Of men, equally poetically constituted in thought, imagination, affection, and so forth, some will be able readily to express in suitable language the most commonplace ideas, while others cannot well express the most profound or beautiful. But it generally happens, we believe, that the two faculties go together in very equal proportions, so that in the great majority of cases it will prove true, that of any given number of men, he who expresses himself in prose or verse with the most facility and beauty, has in other respects the most poetical temperament. If a man be a true poet in power, and vividness, and depth, and beauty, of feeling and conception, we hold that he will not remain obscure, from want of ability to use that mother-tongue which in childhood we find it so easy to acquire. The singular power of Byron to fuse his ideas into languagethe very living representative of his thought, is certainly given to few; but when we see writers (like Miss Barrett, now Mrs. Browning, e. g.) to whom feelings, ideas and imaginations seem much more abundantly supplied than words, still succeeding in giving an expression, albeit not the best, to their thoughts, and showing us their minds in their books, we are not disposed to believe in a hypothetical class of dumb poets. This century, at all events, has had a large share of eloquent speech from many melodious voices. And if our own generation is grown somewhat cold and worldly, still the soul and the voice of the poet have not yet vanished from the midst of us. The real check
upon the poetical spirit of an age is the tyranny of mere formal conventionalism, hollow pretence, and mammonworship, which have somewhat signalized our times, and which our modern prophets are everywhere inveighing against. And certainly while these remain, and the dominant interests of society can be expressed by such names as Hudson and California, the old affections of the human heart seeming to have fled from the world, and to linger only in a few of the toiling and striving Brotherhood of
different lands, burning in the Hungarian's and the Roman's breast, and wakening here and there amongst us flashes of the old English fire, we may naturally have cause to fear lest poetry should shortly steal away to some planet in the sky, or some island in the distant seas, and refuse to dwell among the calculating phlegmatics of this very civilized world. But in truth we have no fear. The deep human interests of our life can never be lost sight of, and if they were, diviner interests would fill up the void. The trust and aspiration of the religious mind are of perennial growth, and were the lesser perceptions of fancy, and the lower themes of earthly joy, all snatched from the poet at once, the diviner element within him would commence a strain that would never be silent more. Inspiration cannot fail till the Deity has either severed our souls from His, or ceased Himself to be.
Look to the facts before us. Let us only glance at the list of our own modern poets, and mark their number and variety. We need not mention the particular merits of Scott or Byron, of whom we have already spoken, and who are certainly by no means among our best modern poets. But Coleridge has left behind him poems of a spiritual nature worthy of everlasting remembrance, showing, as they do, his consciousness of the mysterious, and his sympathy with the sublime and beautiful, to a degree, and in a manner, that had perhaps never been manifested before. Southey, too, has won a deathless fame. In his Thalaba he has given to future generations not merely a singularly vivid picture of oriental life, but a feast for young enthusiasm, and a lesson for Christian faith, that will receive the gratitude of earnest readers to the latest age. Wordsworth, in his Odes to Duty and Immortality, in his lines on Tintern Abbey, in parts of the Excursion, and in many Sonnets, has vindicated for all time the right of solemn thought to expression by the melody of numbers. Shelley's inspiration will live and move the soul for ever. His brilliant creations, his terrible tragedy, his unrivalled Adonais, and his many wonderful effusions of exquisite lyric beauty, can never lose their power to astonish and delight the reader of the English tongue. Keats, too, through his less inspired productions, characterised, however, by their warm glow and rich luxuriance of imagery, is neither dead
nor sleepeth. Tennyson stands unequalled for his fine fancy, his delicate perception of the beautiful, his glowing rhapsodies of feeling, his subtle discrimination of the fine shades of difference separating human characters, and his marvellous power of expressing inexpressible thoughts and states of the inmost soul by talismanic words, which, without describing at all, intuitively put the reader in possession of the oft-remembered feeling so strange and inexplicable even to the most ready sympathy. His burning truths, his pathetic melodies, his quaint fancies, his rich and refined colouring, have made his works treasures of rare hope and promise, to a country just bereft of grander genius of a more masculine order, in the youthful and uncompanioned Shelley !—and Tennyson is with us still, and one song in his Princess (Tears, idle tears!)—proves that he can still truly say,
"O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set,
Ancient founts of inspiration well thro' all my fancy yet!" Kirke White was but in his youth some five and forty years ago, at the time of his premature decay, and had a spirit of rare promise quite in sympathy with our own times. Burns passed away but a short time before him, and long shall Scotland and Great Britain store up and sing his matchless songs. Campbell, by his vigorous writing, his simple ballads, and glowing descriptions, has won a noble fame. Hood has bequeathed to the world a few pathetic verses, and a few sonnets superior, we think, to any in the language. Browning claims an honoured notice and true reverence for his deep thoughts, and powerful imagery, and the ease and boldness of his diction. To Procter (Barry Cornwall) we are indebted for songs of great force, and often of great beauty, and dramatic fragments no less remarkable. William Stanley Roscoe has cast upon the lap of time records of his graceful spirit, too divinely sweet, classical, and plaintive, ever to be lost. Leigh Hunt has written various pieces of real merit. Talfourd, from the cold courts of law, has given us Ion, with its exceeding grace, and gentle dignity, and that sculpture-like composure peculiar to the Grecian stage and Cowper, Charles Wesley, Heber, Keble, Montgomery, and Milman, have furnished the Christian church with strains of religious