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English translators of his work had corrected his mistake, and had mentioned the cause of it, viz. that butchers were not admitted as jurors in criminal cases!
To Mr. Barrington's list of vulgar errors may be added the following:-That if a criminal has hung an hour and revives, he cannot afterwards be executed-That a funeral passing over any place makes a public highway-That a husband has the power of divorcing his wife by selling her in open market with a halter round her neck-That second cousins may not marry, though first-cousins may-That it is necessary, in some species of legal process against the king, to go through the fiction of arresting him, which is done by placing a ribbon across the road as if to impede his carriage-That the lord of a manor may shoot over all the lands within his manor-That pounds of butter may be of any number of ounces-That bullbeef shall not be sold unless the bull have been baited previously to being killed-That leases are made for the term of 999 years, because a lease of 1000 years would create a freehold-That deeds executed on a Sunday are void-That, in order to disinherit an heir at law, it is necessary to give him a shilling by the will, for that otherwise he would be entitled to the whole property.
ART. IV.-Orlando Furioso di Messer Lodovico Ariosto, Venetia, Fr. de Franchesci, 4to. 1584.
The first edition of the Orlando was published in 1516, and the next edition was not published for sixteen years. The immense difference between the two editions, proves very clearly that the original beauties of thought derive their principal effect in poetry from the language in which they are expressed. Ariosto employed these sixteen years in improving his style, in rendering his diction more perspicuous, more correct, more classical, and more chaste,-in selecting such terms, epithets, and turns of expression, as rendered his language a perfect mirror of his mind. Instead of seeking to render his thoughts and imagery more sublime by veiling them in the language of doubt and uncertainty, instead of having recourse to vague and ambiguous forms of expression, and studying that obscurity in which some think the essence
of the sublime consists, his great ambition was to select his terms with such critical precision that every sentence might appear a picture, rather than a description of his thoughts. During these sixteen years, which were almost exclusively devoted to the improvement of his style, he added little to that luxuriance of imagination which characterized the first edition, and still less to that fertility of invention which will always place him, if not the first of all poets, at least inferior to none. The romantic world, from which he selected his images and associations, gave him an advantage which neither Homer, nor Virgil, nor even Milton enjoyed; for though the latter revelled in the ideal world, though he wantoned in the regions of immaterial existence, still all his happiest images and situations are selected from the sensible or material world. Obliged, like other mortals, to collect his knowledge from the dim planet in which he lived, he had no virtues to bestow on the unembodied essences which formed the subject of his poem, but what distinguished beings of terrestrial and incarnate mould; and the necessity of being always on the wing, frequently prevented him from enriching his descriptions with those delightful though humbler images, which, however unworthy the dignity of his celestial characters, have conferred upon the Orlando one of its principal
The labour which Ariosto bestowed on improving the style of his first edition, is a labour which it is fashionable to decry at present. We are told, that " in the irksome task of repeated revision and reconsideration, the poet loses, if we may use the phrase, the impulse of inspiration; his fancy, at first so ardent, becomes cold and flattened, and no longer excites a corresponding glow of expression. In this state of mind, he may correct faults, but he will never add beauties."* These observations are applied, by a writer in the Quarterly Review, to Mr. Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming. He labours to shew, that· Mr. Campbell has destroyed many of the beauties of the first edition by subsequent revisions and alterations; but how absurd is it to conclude, from a few such instances, that the work of revision and repeated correction ought to be abandoned, and the production left in its original state, with all its faults and beauties thick upon it. Yet such is the character of the taste and the character of the criticism which prevails at present. We are taught to believe, that whatever is not produced by the impulse of the moment is not nature. The term―nature,
* Quarterly Review, vol. i. p. 256.
has been, in all ages, made the veil of ignorance, and pretended illumination. When the ancient philosophers found themselves unable to account for the cause of any physical effect, they had immediate recourse to the spell produced by this word, and got over the difficulty by saying, it was the effect of nature. In no age, however, has nature been rendered such an instrument of ignorance and literary despotism, as the age we live in, particularly in France and England. The fact is, that, the same principles are advocated and combated by the same writers, and both are covered over, and rendered sufficiently specious to wear the aspect of truth, by filling up the interstices of error with a few natural observations, which are mere common-place, or at least expressed a thousand times before by other writers. From being sensible and natural, however, we are liable to take it for granted, that all the errors with which they are mixed up, are as true and natural as themselves. But it is in writing, as in life-the greatest rogue puts on the smoothest face, and the most shallow reasoner talks most about nature. By this means, he qualifies himself to assert and deny the very same thing,—and, in fact,, to assert almost any thing, by coming about it in a certain specious and seemingly natural way. Thus it is, that whether we yield to the spontaneous dictates of nature alone, and express only what her impulse inspires, or re-examine, chasten, and refine the rudeness of her first suggestions, we are equally in the power of the critic. In the former case, he tells us, we are not sufficiently chaste, sufficiently correct, and, in the latter, that we are too chaste and too correct." Of this, we have instances without number, in the chief reviews of the day. In the very volume of the Quarterly Review which declaims so strongly against repeated revisions, and which says, that " public taste, like a fine lady, stoops to the forward and the bold," we meet with a long tirade against Mr. Curran's eloquence, condemning him for yielding to that very glow of nature which Mr. Campbell is condemned for not yielding to. What, then, is a writer to do, in order to please the critic, who attacks him with a twoedged sword? If Mr. Campbell sinned in taming and refining his language too much, how much more would Mr. Curran have sinned in doing so? for a license must be granted to the orator, which the poet can never claim,-at least, his audience will grant it to him, if the critic will not, and all criticism is false that sets itself in opposition to public feeling. In oratory, every expression is supposed to be the impulse of the moment. If it be marked with the slightest trace of art, of study, of premeditation, the effect is lost, the audience are put upon their guard, they begin to distrust, the moment the orator betrays the slightest appearance of asserting anything which does not
emanate from the pure and unexamined impulse of his immediate feelings, or of the passions and emotions which his subject naturally inspires. The audience are right in so doing. Their own feelings inform them, that he who advocates an honest cause, is naturally fired with passion and indignation against those to whom he stands opposed; and, while he is so, we forget and forgive his most extravagant expressions, if we can only reconcile them with the feelings by which we suppose him agitated. In fact, absolute nonsense will be the most sublime and natural eloquence, if the agitation of the moment be sufficient to account for it; but let the Reviewer put the most chastened and classical language into the mouth of his orator, and if every sentiment be not in perfect harmony with the feelings by which he appears to be actuated, all his lima labor is exercised to no purpose. His eloquence, with all its over-laboured refinement, is false and spurious, and produces no effect upon the audience; while the language of real passion, however unpolished, is true and natural eloquence. It is, in a word, what it ought to be, the dictates of real feeling, and the audience appreciate it as such.
If, then, Mr. Campbell sinned in chastening his thoughts and language too much, how insufferable, how unnatural would it be in Mr. Curran to do so, having a license in yielding to the untamed energies of his nature, of which the poet could never avail himself. And yet the critic in the Quarterly grants the license to the poet, and takes it from the orator. This, surely, is criticism with a vengeance. Who was the greater orator, Cicero or Demosthenes? To the absence of that "chastened and temperate description" of eloquence" to which alone," says the critic, "in the advanced state of our national taste, we can reconcile ourselves," Cicero was inferior, only because he possessed this "chastened" taste in too high a degree, and he would be beyond all comparison inferior to Demosthenes, were his eloquence of so "temperate a description" as the critic would have it to be. It was far, indeed, from being so temperate, but yet it was more temperate than that of Demosthenes. Cicero had well weighed and examined the whole of what he intended to say before he entered the forum, and could not therefore completely succeed in divesting his speeches of all appearance of art and study; and the traces of art would have been still more visible had he not been really affected and inspired by his subject. Yet this inspiration was not, like that of Demosthenes, pure and unmixed, as vanity, or the love of distinguishing himself above all the orators in Rome, had always a share in the feelings and anxious trepidation of the moment. Demosthenes, on the contrary, was impetuously and irresistibly carried away by the impulse of his feelings: he
thought not of himself. The liberties of his country were all he held dear-all that gave inspiration, conviction, and persuasion to his eloquence, and he consequently kept much farther aloof from that "temperate description of eloquence," which the reviewer can alone reconcile to himself and to the improved taste of the age.
But though he is for putting eloquence in chains, he can give full flight and license to the poet, who neither wants, nor is justified in availing himself of it. Though the orator is always supposed to speak from the impulse of the moment, the poet never is. His language, it is true, must be the language of feeling and of passion; but we know it is a feeling which he has conjured up in his own mind, which arises not from actual existing causes, but from ideal creations of his own. His feelings, consequently, may be wrong, because the species of agency by which they are elicited is of that character which is sometimes liable to deceive us. If the poet make the images, circumstances, situations, &c. which he has pictured to himself, produce feelings different from what they would produce in real life, or at least, if they be not of the same character, they are consequently erroneous and unnatural feelings.Now he is undoubtedly exposed to imbibe such feelings from the light and airy beings of his own creation, for the mind may be so engrossed or so strongly affected by the impressions made upon him by the images which he has already created, the associations which he has already formed, the circumstances and situations which he has already described, that the image which he creates and is describing at the moment may not be able to remove this affection,-in which case, it will not produce that effect upon him which it would produce in real life, where its agency would be stronger, not only from the mind's being more open to its impressions, in consequence of its freedom from those antecedent impressions caused by poetic associations, but also because a real, existing object, which presents itself to us in no ideal questionable shape, must necessarily act more powerfully and be more capable of removing antecedent impressions than the "airy nothings" or fairy images of the bard. The poet is, therefore, liable to be deceived by his own creations while he is in the act of forming them, and consequently the impressions and affections which they make upon him, and which he describes accordingly, may be very unnatural, and appear so to all his readers. In calling them unnatural, we do not mean to say, that they are unnatural so far as regards himself; for, in the situation in which he is placed, and acted upon as he is by a train of indescribable emotions and glimpses of thought which present half an image to him, and then withdraw it before he can seize upon it, it is