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Stories in verse. When I think upon this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation, I am almost ashamed to have spoken of the feeble effort with which I have endeavoured to counteract it; and reflecting upon the magnitude of the general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonorable melancholy, had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and indestructible qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain powers in the great and permanent objects that act upon it, which are equally inherent and indestructible; and did I not further add to this impression a belief, that the time is approaching, when the evil will be systematically opposed by men of greater powers, and with far more distinguished success.
Having dwelt thus long on the subjects and aim of these Poems, I shall request the Reader's permission to apprise him of a few circumstances relating to their style, in order, among other reasons, that I may not be censured for not having performed what I never attempted. Except in a very few instances the Reader will find no personifications of abstract ideas in these Volumes, not that I mean to censure such personifications; they may be well fitted for certain sorts of composition, but in these Poems, I propose to myself to imitate, and, as far as possible to adopt, the very language of men; and I do not find that such personifications make any regular or natural part of that language. I wish to keep my Reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded, that by so doing, I shall interest him. Not but that I believe, that others who pursue a different track, may interest him likewise: I do not interfere with their claim; I only wish to prefer a different claim of my own. There will also be found in these Volumes little of what is usually called poetic diction; I have taken as much pains to avoid it as others ordinarily take to produce it; this I have done for the reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language of men, and further, because the pleasure, which I have proposed to myself to impart, is of a kind very different from that which is supposed by many persons to be the proper object of Poetry. I do not know how, without being culpably particular, I can give my Reader a more exact notion of the style in which I wished these Poems to be written, than by informing him, that I have at all
times endeavoured to look steadily at my subject, consequently, I hope it will be found, that there is in these Poems little falsehood of description, and that my ideas are expressed in language fitted to their respective importance. Something I must have gained by this practice, as it is friendly to one property of all good Poetry, namely, good sense; but it has necessarily cut me off from a large portion of phrases and figures of speech, which, from father to son have long been regarded as the common inheritance. of Poets. I have also thought it expedient to restrict myself still further, having abstained from the use of many expressi-. ons, in themselves proper and beautiful, but which have been foolishly repeated by bad Poets, till such feelings of disgust are connected with them as it is scarcely possible by any art of association to overpower.
If in a Poem there should be found a series of lines, or even a single line, in which the language, though naturally arranged, and according to the strict laws of Metre, does not differ from that of Prose, there is a numerous class of critics who, when they stumble upon these Prosaisms, as they call them, imagine that they have made a notable discovery, and exult over the. Poet as over a man ignorant of his own profession. Now these men would establish a canon of criticism which the Reader will conclude he must utterly reject if he wishes to be pleased with these Volumes. And it would be a most easy task to prove to him, that not only the language of a large portion of every good Poem, even of the most elevated character, must necessarily,, except with reference to the Metre, in no respect differ from that of good Prose, but likewise, that some of the most interesting. parts of the best Poems will be found to be strictly the language of Prose, when Prose is well written. The truth of this assertion might be demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost all the Poetical writings even of Milton himself. I have not space. for much quotation; but, to illustrate the subject in a general. manner, I will here adduce a short composition of Gray, who was at the head of those, who by their reasonings have attempted to widen the space of separation betwixt Prose and Metrical.composition, and was more than any other man curiously elaborate in the structure of his own poetic diction.
In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
It will easily be perceived, that the only part of this Sonnet which is of any value, is the lines printed in Italics: It is equally obvious, that except in the rhyme, and in the use of the single word "fruitless" for fruitlessly, which is so far a defect, the language of these lines does in no respect differ from that of Prose.
Is there then, it will be asked, no essential difference between the language of Prose and Metrical composition? I answer that there neither is nor can be any essential difference. We are fond of tracing the resemblance between Poetry and Painting, and, accordingly, we call them sisters; but where shall we find bonds of connection sufficiently strict to typify the affinity betwixt Metrical and Prose composition? They both speak by and to the same organs; the bodies in which both of them are clothed may be said to be of the same substance, their affections are kindred and almost identical, not necessarily differing even in degree; Poetry * sheds no tears "such as Angels weep," but
* I here use the word "Poetry" (though against my own judgment) as opposed to the word Prose, and synonymous with Metrical composition. But much confusion bas been introduced into Criticism by
natural and human tears; she can boast of no celestial Ichor that distinguishes her vital juices from those of Prose; the same human blood circulates through the veins of them both.
If it be affirmed that Rhyme and Metrical arrangement, of themselves, constitute a distinction, which overturns what I have been saying on the strict affinity of Metrical language with that of Prose, and paves the way for other distinctions which the mind voluntarily admits, I answer, that the distinction of Rhyme and Metre is regular and uniform, and not, like that which is produced by what is usually called Poetic diction, arbitrary, and subject to infinite caprices, upon which no calculation whatever can be made. In the one case, the Reader is utterly at the mercy of the Poet respecting what imagery or diction he may choose to connect with the passion, whereas in the other, the Metre obeys certain laws, to which the Poet and Reader both willingly submit, because they are certain, and because, no interference is made by them with the passion, but such as the concurring testimony of ages has shewn to heighten and improve the pleasure which co-exists with it.
'It will now be proper to answer an obvious question, namely, why, professing these opinions, have I written in Verse? To this in the first place I reply, because, however I may have restricted myself, there is still left open to me, what confessedly constitutes the most valuable object of all writing, whether in Prose or Verse, the great and universal Passions of men, the most general and interesting of their occupations, and the entire world of Nature, from which I am at liberty to supply myself with endless combinations of forms and imagery. Now, granting for a moment, that whatever is interesting in these objects may be as vividly described in Prose, why am I to be condemned if to such description I have endeavoured to superadd the charm which, by the consent of all nations, is acknowledged to exist in Metrical language? To this it will be answered that a very small part of the
this contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead of the more philosophical one of Poetry and Science. The only strict antithesis to Prose is Metre.
pleasure given by Poetry depends upon the Metre, and that it is injudicious to write in Metre, unless it be accompanied with the other artificial distinctions of style with which Metre is usually accompanied; and that by such deviation more will be lost from the shock which will be thereby given to the Reader's associations, than will be counterbalanced by any pleasure, which he can derive from the general Power of Numbers. In answer to those who thus contend for the necessity of accompanying Metre with certain appropriate colours of style, in order to the accomplishment of its appropriate end, and who, also, in my opinion, greatly under-rate the Power of Metre in itself, it might, perhaps, be almost sufficient to observe, that Poems are extant, written upon more humble subjects, and in a more naked and simple style, than what I have aimed at, which Poenus have continued to give pleasure from generation to generation. Now if nakedness and simplicity be a defect, the fact here mentioned affords a strong presumption, that Poems somewhat less naked and simple, are capable of affording pleasure at the present day; and all that I am now attempting is--to justify myself for having written under the impression of this belief.
But I might point out various causes why, when the stile is manly, and the subject of some importance, words, Metrically arranged, will long continue to impart such a pleasure to mankind, as he, who is sensible of the extent of that pleasure, will be desirous to impart. The end of Poetry is to produce excitement in co-existence with an overbalance of pleasure. Now, by the supposition, excitement is an unusual and irregular state of the mind; ideas and feelings do not in that state succeed each other in accustomed order. But, if the words by which this excitement is produced are in themselves powerful, or the images and feelings have an undue proportion of pain connected with them, there is some danger, that the excitement may be carried beyond its proper bounds. Now the co-presence of something regular, something to which the mind has been accustomed when in an unexcited, or a less excited state, cannot but have great efficacy, in tempering and restraining the passion, by an intertexture of ordinary feeling. This may be illustrated by appealing to the