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after thirty nor terminating till after fifty, involves a view of the subject to which we cannot so readily subscribe. Literary his. tory, we believe, lends considerable support to our opinion, that the poetical faculty, though seldom largely developed in boyhood, has an especial connexion with youth; that in many cases it is full grown while the other intellectual faculties are yet growing; that it often is in the decline while other powers of the mind are in entire vigour. If a large proportion of all the noblest poetry which the world has seen—and this we concede to Mr. Taylor-has been conceived and executed by men between thirty and forty-five; if much that is first-rate in its way has been produced at a still more advanced age; it appears equally true that no small amount of genuine poetry, excellent in its kind and fit to live for its own sake, has proceeded from men under thirty: and if we extend the period of youth till five or six and thirty, we may even say that no small proportion of the finest poetry extant has been written by young men.
Are the earlier productions of Shakspeare, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, and Milton immature fruits ? are they not 'young but full-grown poetry, graceful as the beardless Apollo?' It is commonly felt that in Romeo and Juliet, the Midsummer Night's Dream, the Merchant of Venice, Richard the Third, Henry the Fourth, the author had reached perfection in one style of poetic art; and the world could scarcely better spare the Allegro and Penseroso, Comus, and Lycidas, than part with Paradise Lost. Those crude and harsh berries,' as their producer with a large poetical licence chose to style them, will ever rank high among the fruits of the poetical vineyard : they are ripe grapes of no mean flavour; in sweetness, if not in the potency of the juice, inferior to none. Jonson is said to have written Every Man in his Humour at about two-and-twenty; the Fox, the Alchemist, and Silent Woman by the time he was thirty-six. Beaumont, the associate of Fletcher in some of his finest plays, died at nine-and-twenty. All the more imaginative verse of Pope appeared before he was thirty years old; Thomson's Seasons belong to the same period of life; and Burns had immortalized his name at twenty-seven. Gray never produced a better poem - no man has produced a better of its kind-than his Elegy in a Country Churchyard; and this seems to have been partly done in his twentysixth year, when he published some of his best odes, especially the Prospect of Eton College. The poetry of Catullus, so perfect in its style, the poetry of Crashaw and of Collins, of Gellert and of Bürger, of Coleridge and Byron for the most part, of Shelley entirely, was the poetry of youth. Akenside, rather too magnificently styled the British Lucretius,' published the
Pleasures of Imagination in his twenty-third year. Men differ in their estimate of poetic excellence, and there are some to whom poetry is worth little except as the decorated shrine, the graceful framework of sage reflection and various knowledge of life and affairs; but those who love the poetical for its own · sake, even when it teaches nothing but itself, that is, when it merely exhibits the poetical aspect of things, and illustrates a certain mode and attitude of the human mind, will hesitate to admit that the poet ripens as slowly as the statesman or the general, the historian or philosophic divine.
To proceed with our survey. Schiller had written some of the plays on which his poetical reputation rests—The Robbers and Don Carlos_before he completed his twenty-eighth_year. Wallenstein he composed about the same period when Dante was occupied with the Divina Conimedia — the first stage of middle life. Klopstock obtained celebrity by three cantos of the Messiah at twenty-four; and Goethe had become poetically famous before he was twenty-five; Faust was early planned but late finished; it was composed at intervals during the course of half a century. Sir Walter Scott wrote with youthful spirit both early and late ; but the 'willowy grey' was hardly peeping out beneath the laurel on his illustrious head, when he delighted the world with the Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion. Tbalaba was written in about six weeks, in Southey's six-andtwentieth year.
The poem breathes of youth all over ; it expresses the keenness of youthful sorrow, the ardour of youthful hope, the glow and triumph of youthful joy; yet it is far from boyish or immature. And how was it with the great philosophic poet of our age? It might be supposed that his poetic mind grew, like the oak or the cedar, slowly and gradually, and attained not its full size and adult solidity till a thousand larches of literature, with their slight poverty-stricken foliage, had sprung up and perished around him: yet the fact is that many of the poems on which his genius is most strongly impressed were produced before he had reached the middle of life :- Tintern Abbey and the Old Cumberland Beggar, for instance, to judge by the dates annexed, must have been written when he was but twenty-seven-ten years before the age when Petrarch obtained the poetic crown.
The Female Vagrant he composed at about one-and-twenty, and that poem, both in conception and in versification, is very mature in its line. His grand ode on Intimations of Immortality was written when he was advancing towards the mezzo cammin. The writings of his later day are, for some readers, the most beautiful portion of his works; but such is not the feeling of his devoted admirers in general, or of
those who admire in his productions the most that part which is the most characteristic and sui generis—which is based more on nature and less on art, or on natural art rather than that which has been acquired. Laodamia, Dion, the White Doe, and the Excursion, belong chiefly to the middle period of his poetic life. His latest poems are marked by delicacy of thought and grace of execution, but there is less of organic growth in them; they are not so lifesomely evolved from a central idea as those of his morning and noon-day. In the Evening Voluntaries, for example, thoughts and images follow one another, as the snow falls upon the ground, flake after flake, till it forms one pure and shining aggregate : but they do not compose each a distinct whole, strongly individualized, as do most of his earlier poems. We will cherish a hope that, when the author of Philip Van Artevelde' speaks with such warmth of late achievements in poetry, it is the illumined shadow of his own coming performances cast before his mind that inspires such thoughts; that those noble plays which he has already given us are but the precursors of a long line of dramas, which are to crown his head with as many fresh laurels as covered the silver hairs of Æschylus.
He maintains, however, that even for amorous poetry there is 'a richer vein than that of youth's temperament, a more attractive art than youth can attain to;' he even thinks that the best strains of erotic verse' have been uttered by poets in whom, to quote a line of his own, 'the juices and the vital sap were ebbing from the leaf.' But what is meant by the best strains of erotic verse ? - those which play upon the theme of love, or those which express the passion with force and felicity? Love-poems, technically so called, are commonly of the former kind, and perhaps the stores of literature could not furnish a more frigid mass than might be formed out of this species of composition, or one from which more abundant materials for a glittering ice-palace might be obtained. To recall those feelings of youth which are most associated with beauty, and fix them in a poetic medium, as substances once glowing with life are fixed in transparent stone, is an employment well suited to the powers of declining age, and often congenial to the feelings of those who are wearied of the sun and dust upon the thoroughfares of life, and seek with strong desire to revisit the green and shady places which they frequented in youth. But these poems bear the same relation to a powerful display of the passion itself, as the reflection of moonlight in the cold and quiet lake to the dazzling deluge' of a midsummer day in all the bright severity of noon.' If the 'masters of erotic verse' in this sense were mustered, we should behold the auburn locks of youth or early manbood in most of the band. Horace moralized
on love exquisitely after he had grown fat, and was probably neither a subject nor an object of romantic feelings; his Quis multa gracilis is a crystal vase, splendidior vitro, of such symmetry that it forms a monument more lasting than brass. But in the earlier plays of Shakspeare, and those of Beaumont, the passion itself seems to glow transfused. The Giavur, the Corsair, the Lara, and Parisina of Lord Byron's youth contain the very image of youthful emotion ; and hence they set the world of young readers on fire at their first appearance, though doubtless their thrilling entrancing effect was heightened by circumstances of the hour and personal associations.
The union of this true image of passion with higher poetic art and more food for the imagination than these poems contain, constitutes, in our view, the perfection of love poetry. Shelley and Byron combined might perhaps have given us what we find in Romeo and Juliet. The sense of proportion'-Mr. Taylor adds-'is naturally imperfect in youth, through undue ardour in particulars.' Yet the poems of Catullus are models of proportion, and Shelley's Lines to a Lady with a Guitar, which have been justly styled a Catullian strain, would not have acquired more grace had the author re-composed them at the age of the Patriarchs. The Rape of the Lock, so remarkable for ease and polish, was written at four-and-twenty. The truth is, that although the sense of proportion may be improved, yet it is a natural gift, a part of poetic genius, and to perfect this gift not many years of care and training are necessary.
On a general review we think it will appear that the great period for dramatic poetry has been the earlier portion of middle age; for epic poetry the later; that satires and meditative poems - Young's Night Thoughts, and Cowper's Task, for instance-have for the most part belonged to the last stages of a career; although, where satire is combined with action and passion in the drama, it has generally been earlier produced. The satirical genius of Aristophanes was full grown when he put forth his Knights; and that play, as well as the Acharnians, appeared when he was under one-and-twenty, if the conjectured date of his birth, B.C. 444, comes near the truth. Chat. terton has been styled 'the marvellous boy;' but the most marvellous boy of whom records are extant is Torquato Tasso, if it be true that he wrote the first six cantos of the Gerusalemme Liberata in his seventeenth year: for though of all great poems of permanent reputation it is the least original—and what it derives from Virgil, Dante, and Ariosto is not so transmuted in the alembic of the poet's mind, as in Comus and Paradise Lost all borrowed materials are subdued to the genius of Milton,
yet it is unquestionably a creation of genius; and all the best works of Tasso were composed before he had entered far beyond the confines of middle age. On the other hand, of men advanced beyond it, the highest poetic achievements are those of Æschylus, if, indeed, he composed the Orestea' not long before its first appearance, at sixty-eight; of Pindar, whose lyrical career commenced with great success at twenty, but whose very finest odes seem to have been composed between his forty-ninth and fiftysixth year; of Sophocles, who carried away the prize from his master Æschylus at twenty-nine, yet is said to have produced the Edipus Coloneus when he was past eighty; and the later works of Chaucer, of Milton, and of Dryden.
The inquiry what period of a man's life is best fitted for the production of great poems—that is, poems on a comprehensive plan—is not precisely the same as the question at what part of man’s life does the poetic faculty attain perfection. The poetic feeling and power may be in its prime long before the poet has begun his most extensive work; for that will include a good deal besides poetry or the mere poetical element; whatever treasure of the imagination may have been laid up at an early period, such a poem will not be produced till® multifarious materials have been collected from teaching and experience; but will form a channel into which streams from various periods of life will run. Some, indeed, maintain that there is no such distinct poetical faculty as our argument supposes. •Poetry ----says Mr. Carlyle-'except where the whole consists in extreme sensibility and a certain vague pervading tunefulness of nature, is no separate faculty, no organ which can be superadded to the rest or disjoined from them, but rather the result of their general harmony and completion.' But surely a man may have all other powers in as high perfection as we have reason to suppose great poets in general to have possessed them, and yet be as unable to produce a poem worth reading as to create a new set of stars. Shakspeare could never learn to act well, though he was immeasurably the greatest of dramatists; and that Burns would bave excelled in any other department except one, or, as Professor Stewart suggests, in whatever walk of ambition he had chosen to exert his abilities'-pace tanti viri seems to be gratuitously supposed; though there is no endowment that gives a man the air of general power so much as a high gift of imagination, which enables the possessor to be all things in mental discourse: since
'In the compass of his single mind The seeds and pregnant forms in essence lie
That make all worlds.' We, in short, are of the old and common opinion. We still