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It is true that the generation which has only lately passed away had just cause to glory in its bards. If no "bright particular star" burns solitary in that quarter of the hemisphere, we may see there a constellation of lights, dissimilar in radiance and of different magnitudes, but softly blending all their associated glories. Much fine and genuine poetry illustrated the regency and reign of George IV. Yet the deteriorating influences we have enumerated may easily be traced in the productions of that period; and even when they have allowed some compositions to come forth pure and uninjured, they have still operated with certain effect in preventing the full development, or in marring the grand simplicity, of the poet's character. We repeat, this is not always to be regretted; other forms of literature have often profited by this deviation or perversion; but the fact at least may be clearly ascertained by a brief reference to our poetic calendar.
Of all the modern poets, Campbell and Rogers have made surest work for immortality. Whatever is essential and permanent in poetry of the ancient classic type, has been beautifully adapted by the English muse of Rogers. In Campbell, there is frequently something of a more meretricious character; but many of his lyrics have the true bardic spirit and the strong Saxon voice; and his story of Gertrude and her fortunes in the wilderness of the Savannah, while it breathes an Arcadian sweetness of its own, is invested with a thousand graces which confer a perdurable beauty. But neither of these authors is the great commanding poet of his age; and still less can this be said of any of their celebrated contemporaries. Scott revived with . eminent success the soul of border minstrelsy; but his hearty, healthful verse had neither the concentration nor the pitch of poetry; it pleased rather from the romance and freshness of his theme, than because of its general truth or deep significance. Byron, even in his best productions, evinced a fatal lack of comprehensiveness, a deficient eye for form, and an excess of sentiment not often of the purest sort. His intense egotism unfitted him for doing justice to other and more noble types of character; while a great egotist is never a great poet, unless (like Milton and Dante) he is also the greatest and foremost man of his age. He wanted the moral far more than the intellectual qualities of greatness; and had no right conception of the beauty, dignity, and power of - virtue. Incapable of exercising the highest functions of the poet, he might probably have become the first satirist of his day. The genius of Moore was musical rather than poetic: he delighted and excelled in melody, but always failed in profound or harmonious combinations. Fancy he had, and feeling in a moderate degree; but in imagination he was almost totally deficient. His style was artificial,-his taste for the
Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth.
beautiful, limited, conventional, and factitious. Neither the English heart nor the English head could find satisfaction in his minstrelsy; and even his sweetest songs lose more than half their charms when divorced from the melodious airs which animated them at the first, and gave to them the principle of life. Southey was a less popular but far more genuine poet. Indeed, all the gifts, and nearly all the graces, of his art were present with him; and this he has evinced by the taste, variety, and invention of his numerous verse. But he studied man too little, and books far too exclusively. The freshness and the freedom of the poetic character were lost in his scholarly seclusion he taxed his powerful mind with continual efforts of re-production; and the genius that was at first only disturbed became finally overlaid. His thirst of knowledge joined with the exigencies of daily life to draw him from communion with the muse; and instead of the greatest poet of the age, he will be henceforth known as the noblest and purest of its men of letters. Far different moral causes led to no very different issue the marvellous powers of Coleridge. With the finest ear, the most delicate fancy, and the most superb imagination of any poet of our day, save one, he left the dial that stands within the poet's garden to peer behind the clock-work of the universe, and grew bewildered in presence of the vast machinery, and fell stunned and voiceless because of the awful procession of its wheels. He exchanged poetic synthesis for metaphysical. analysis; gathered some fragments of the under-working law, but relinquished all the smiling appanage of nature. The world still waited for its poet. Many thought he had already come in the person of William Wordsworth, whose pretensions were despised or overlooked, only because of the studied plainness of his appeal. Yet those pretensions were at least sufficiently advanced, if not haughtily preferred or royally supported. He essayed all the varieties of his art, from ballad measures to epic lengths; but he had not eminent success in more than two. Excepting only some fifty of his sonnets and a few noble odes, there is nothing in his volumes which the world could not well spare. His ballads are not so much simple as naked, not so much homely as prosaic. His "Excursion" is tedious, verbose, metaphysical; elaborate in manner, and not stinted in dimensions, it is quite wanting in constructive art; it is indefinite in its purpose, and inconclusive as a whole. There is little
difficulty in pointing out this author's chief defect. He had the poet's mind, but not the poet's manner; he had something of the artist's tasteful eye, but little of the artist's skilful hand. His touch was often feeble, hesitating, ineffectual; and seldom did he inform the picture with a pleasing or a perfect grace. The philosophical element is too manifest and too predominant. in all his works. A sage he was; but no crowned poet, no
magician. He had the lore of Prospero, his gravity, and his diguity; but no wand was in his hand, and no Ariel at his beck.
From each of the authors we have named, many beautiful poems have been received into the anthology of England; but who is by emphasis THE POET? We find something to admire in the "works" of every one; but where is the master that lifts up all the powers of our hearts and minds together, and makes nature to dance in concert with the soul at the mere hearing of his voice? The Christabel of Coleridge, the O'Connor's Child of Campbell, the Adonais and Ode to the Sky-Lark of poor unhappy Shelley, Moore's tender Melodies, and Wordsworth's noble Sonnets, these are choice pieces in our classical repertory, and we can only spare them from our side because they are already graven in our hearts. But something of higher note, of rarer excellence, is yet a-wanting; and while the world yet waits, breathless with expectation, a clear high voice is heard advancing on the ear, and the poet's advent is unmistakeably announced in the character of his forerunner.
"The rain had fallen, the Poet arose,
He passed by the town, and out of the street,
And he sat him down in a lonely place,
"The swallow stopt as he hunted the bee,
The snake slipt under a spray,
The wild hawk stood with the down on his beak,
And stared with his foot on the prey.
And the nightingale thought, 'I have sung many songs,
But never a one so gay;
For he sings of what the world will be,
When the years have died away.'
It is not our intention to enter minutely into the character and merits of Mr. Tennyson's poetry. Presuming that our author's publications are more or less familiar to the reader, we shall briefly indicate the qualities which seem to justify in some degree the praise of his admirers, and give to him a high and independent place among the English poets. To this course we are certainly moved by no spirit of partisanship; and we may equally disclaim that feeling of exclusive preference which is so apt to warp the judgment and corrupt the taste. Our sympathies (as the reader of this journal knows) are not deeply engaged in favour of the subjective school of poetry, with which Mr. Tennyson is commonly, but not quite fairly, identified; yet it is only just that the distinction should be made, and clearly
marked, between what is genuine and original in the present claimant, and what is meretricious and extravagant in his younger rivals. There is some danger of the former sharing in the condemnation of the latter; and so an injustice may be done to one of the most gifted of his race and order. Yet it is surely idle to confound the merits and position of Mr. Tennyson with those of certain imitators and enthusiasts. His poems are too well conceived, his thoughts too harmoniously ordered, to allow any thing but recklessness or incapacity so far to misjudge his real character. He has no relation to what has been designated "the spasmodic school of poetry," excepting that his genius has quickened into unequal emulation the poetic instinct of far inferior men; and in these cases it was only natural that the external features of his poetry should be most closely followed, and carried to "wasteful and ridiculous excess." Hence his frequent but felicitous use of flowers, for the subordinate purposes of sentiment and imagery, is mere purposeless profusion in the pages of some of our younger poets; and what in him is but an occasional voice of wonder, or of doubt, becomes in them an intolerable sense of moral confusion, and a monotonous wail of misanthropic grief.
But your orthodox man of taste will reject the claims of Mr. Tennyson, as stoutly as those of his most extravagant contemporaries. His delight is in the satires and the epitaphs of Pope. He calls easily to memory, and repeats with proudest emphasis, the opening lines of "The Traveller," and triumphantly inquires, "Do you want finer poetry than that?" He believes also in Shakspeare; and though it is perhaps twenty years since he read much of the great master's volume, you may trust him for correct quotation, as he illustrates some passing incident, some trait of character, some point of casuistry, by noble apophthegm or golden rule of life. Yet it may be observed, that if his love of Shakspeare is unmeasured, his appreciation is somewhat limited. The poet is for him a clear-eyed, mellow-voiced, and genial man of the world, a shrewd observer, a pleasant satirist, a merry wit. He heartily enjoys the Shakspearean comedy; but gives the history and tragedy, the sentiment and sorrow, quite a second place; puts "As you like it" before "The Tempest," and quotes more frequently the sayings of Polonius than those of Hamlet. Our orthodox man of taste is not to be despised. For these strong preferences we rather honour than condemn him. What he admires, is genuine, is admirable; whoever else is sound in judgment, he at least is so. Nor do we say that the Laureate of the present day will ever take rank with the universal favourites, the classics of all time. But orthodoxy is apt to be literal and harsh, as well as sound; and when it charges obscurity, excess, and wantonness upon the poetic measures of Mr. Tennyson, it is quite possible that the
deficiency and fault may not rest wholly with the poet. Handel is the grand maestro; yet is there no music in the wild and wailing symphonies of Beethoven? Goethe is the great sage; yet is there no wisdom shimmering like innumerable glowworms in the forest of Jean Paul's quaint fancy and invention? Gainsborough and Reynolds are the glory of the British school; but is no sentiment to be found in the fertile grace of Stothard, no freshness in the homely pastorals of Constable? It is the highest-mounted man who sees the farthest; and that is the truest taste which comprehends the widest kingdom and the most numerous subjects in its impartial range. But besides this necessary power of catholic appreciation of all that is genuine in literature or art, another consideration should repress exclusive judgments. The writings of Pope and Goldsmith, and even those of Shakspeare, form no sufficient test of the reader's love of poetry; for a man of comparative dulness may find amusement in the mere letter of these compositions. It is quite another thing to find pleasure in Spenser's "Fairy Queen," or Milton's "Comus," or, of later date, in the fine fragments of young Keats, beautiful as Elgin marbles. This is indeed to give evidence of deep poetic feeling; and it is just the ear and fancy which are so arrested, that will find, as we believe, a satisfaction, not inferior, but still deeper and more complete, in the productions of the present Laureate.
Mr. Tennyson has been thought to owe much to the philosophic muse of Wordsworth; but we cannot trace the debt. The only likeness we can discern between these authors, is in the devotion of their lives to the attainment of poetic excellence. Because of this sustained and rare devotion, in which they equally secured some pure advantages, and exercised their powers with fullest freedom, we may all the more fairly estimate the relative results. One grand particular may be selected as, in some degree, inclusive of all the rest; and significant, if not decisive, of their respective merit. The difference in the style or manner of these two poets is striking, and, at the same time, characteristic of more essential differences. Wordsworth's thoughts are often beautiful and just; and being, moreover, elaborately set in measured verse and studied phrase, there is a certain unity about the whole, which challenges the praise of poetry. Yet we feel, sometimes painfully, the subservience of the spirit to the letter of poetic truth, of the aesthetic to the rational appreciation of external things, and mark too clearly the deliberate coinage and patent artifice of all his words and lines. Poetry is with him the selected medium of his thoughts, not the spontaneous language of inspired lips. It is very different with Mr. Tennyson. The bees of Hybla have swarmed about his mouth in infancy,-a marvellous ease and sweetness are found in all his utterance. He does not assume the language