Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

impossible he can feel otherwise than he does, or rather his feeling them proves them natural, because there can be no feeling without a cause to produce it, as all feelings are impressions made upon us, and no impression can bring itself into, or be the cause of its own existence. If, at this moment, a cause began to act upon a man different from any that ever acted upon any man before, he would instantly be sensible of feelings which no man ever felt before; but will it be said this feeling is unnatural, because it is confined to the individual ?because no man can feel it but himself ?-because, in a word, it is a monster in the world of feeling? To maintain it unnatural, is to maintain that the effect should not follow from its cause. In fact, every feeling is natural to him by whom it is felt, but it does not follow that the poet is justified in describing his feelings' as they are felt, and publishing them immediately to the world, because the images, associations, or circumstances, from which he leads us to suppose they have arisen, will not appear natural causes to us,—that is, we cannot be made to believe, that they would produce the feelings in us which he describes them to have produced in him ; and we are right in not believing it, for the feelings which he describes do not by any means proceed exclusively from the causes to which he assigns them, and from which he himself imagines at the moment they do arise, but from a multiplicity of finer influences acting upon him at the same moment, from relations which he perceives between things of so fine a texture that the relation is scarcely seen when it vanishes from sight. The more he is alive to impressions, the more eager he is to grasp at their causes, the more liable he is to be led insensibly into some strange mood or other, a mood which he never felt before, and which he will never feel again without some change or shade of modification, as we think it hardly within the verge of possibility that the same ideas, images, perceptions of relation, glimpses of thought, and of half-embodied imagesimages that belong neither to heaven' nor to earth, -too ethereal to mix with the grosser elements of human knowledge, of too earthly a mould to escape entirely the detecting, analyzing, and decompounding acumen of genius, -we think it impossible, we say, that this intellectual brood should ever follow each other twice in the same order; or, indeed, should ever follow each other in any order. They cannot, therefore, ever lead the poet a second time into the same identical mood, though, if they should follow in nearly the same order and number, they will certainly leave him in a mood not very different from it. At any rate whether they ever return for not in the same order or number, it is obvious, that such a train of images and associations will

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

insensibly lead the poet into a mood of feeling different from
that in which he knew himself to have been when they began
to pass in review before him. In describing, therefore, the
feelings of the moment, he must necessarily attribute them
only to such of the causes which produced them as are capable
of being described, and omit those finer influences and
shadowy causes which elude his grasp. The consequence is,
that the feelings which he describes are far from being the
sole result of the causes to which he ascribes them, as a thou-
sand influences were exercised over him by causes too minute
to be detected. The feelings and emotions which he describes,
therefore, though natural, do not naturally arise from the causes
to which they are'attributed, but from the combined operation
of them, and many other causes; and the reader, accordingly,
who was never affected by those other causes, and to whom
they are not described, feels very naturally that the images and
creations of the poet are not sufficient to excite the feelings
which he describes, that they do not excite them in himself,
and that they would not excite them in the generality of man-
kind; and as the common feeling is the true criterion of taste,
he naturally condemns the taste of the poet.'
** Is the poet, then, to suppress in his description that part or
portion of his feelings that were elevated by causes which he
cannot describe, and give expression only to the rest? This is
impossible. To describe the exact degree of influence exer-
cised over his feelings by these finer and nondescript causes, is
as difficult as to grasp or describe the causes themselves.
Feeling can neither be weighed nor measured, nor divided ;
for though mixed feelings will arise from the action of mixed or
opposite agencies, the piercing acumen of genius can never
ascertain how many separate elements these mixed feel-
ings are composed of, or, in other words, what portion of the
mixed feelings arises from each distinct and particular agency.
The poet should, therefore, always describe his feelings as they
exist at the moment he is making the description, for otherwise
he will describe feelings that have no existence; but then he
must take care not to give this description immediately to the
public, for though he describes feelings that are perfectly natu-
ral, he does not describe all the influences and energies by
which these feelings were produced, and consequently the pub-
lic can never consider them natural without abandoning the
judgment pronounced by their own feelings. The public, how-
ever, do not pronounce his feelings unnatural, virtually speak-
ing, though they designate them by that term,-a proof that
the public judge always right, though the terms in which they
express their judgment are frequently wrong. The public pro-
nounce the feelings which we have just described unnatural, but

by this they only mean, if they were to explain their meaning, not that such feelings could, in no case, and under the influence of no circumstances, situations, or sympathies, be naturally felt, but that they are feelings which cannot naturally arise from the causes to which the poet ascribes them. In this they pronounce a right judgment. Should the poet, however, describe those feelings which the public condemn as unnatural, and describe, at the same time, (what he cannot describe,) that multitude of finer and half-ethereal causes from which, as we have already shewn, these feelings originated, the public, so far from condemning them as unnatural, would not only acknowledge them to be the pure offspring of nature, or natural agency operating on the mind, but they would rank, and would be justified in ranking the poet who describes them above Homer and Mil-, ton, and all the poets the world ever has, or ever shall produce, for it requires a genius to detect and perceive all the causes that operate upon and give existence to our feelings, which nature has never granted and never will grant to the most gifted of her favourites. We are, therefore, justified in call-, ing the feelings described by the poet, whether he describes them as his own, or as those of another, unnatural, if we see no sufficient reason for indulging them, or if he associates them with images or assertions which a person in his situation or state of feeling would never think of. When Hammond says

Attend, O Juno! with thy sober ear,

Attend, gay Venus, parent of desire,
This one fond wish, if you refuse to hear,
Oh! let me with this sigh of love expire,”

we instinctly feel he does not speak the language of true love, from his invoking Juno and Venus. A person really or deeply in love would think of the object of his affection alone, would invoke her alone, would sigh for her alone, and instead of wishing to die with one sigh if she remained inexorable, is so infatuated with passion, or so in love with his passion and wretchedness, that he would still wish to continue in love, still wish to sigh for her and dwell upon her image. As to invoking Juno and Venus he would never think of either, because he believes in neither; and the true lover says nothing but what he believes. He is incapable of every species of trick and deceit. True passion can suffer no alloy-no base ingredients to mix with it. He has no recourse to fiction or imagination, for the light play of fancy has no charms for the mind which is pre-occupied with the deeper workings of passion. The more powerful is passion, the more is the mind exalted above every thing low, despicable,

and mean. It is impossible to deprave the principles of a lover, without eradicating, at the same moment, the passion to which he is a slave; so that the more he is trampled upon by the tyranny of love, the more he tramples himself upon every thing base, and the more armed he is against all the approaches of depravity. If Hammond, then, was really in love, he would not fly from his Delia to invoke Juno and Venus,-for it would be playing the hypocrite to invoke two goddesses whom he knew, or at least believed, did not exist,-an hypocrisy of which true love is incapable. . .

The causes which we have already mentioned shew, that the greater the genius of the poet, the more liable he is to be deceived by the multiplicity of ideas, associations, images, catches of thought, or glimpses of perception which crowd upon his view, and produce a glow of feeling, enthusiasm, passion, inspiration, or whatever we please to call it, which repels the exact degree of influence which each distinct and separate image should and would exercise over his mind, had he not been under the dominion of these multiplied impressions, but also produce new impressions of their own. Can any thing, then, be more obvious, than that this influence will continue while this crowd of images, &c. and their consequent impressions, continue to influence his mind. It is certain, however, that the crowd of images and associations which acted upon him to-day, and their attendant impressions, will recur to-morrow, if he recur himself to the description which he gave of them. Their memory is too fresh upon his mind to be forgotten; and until they are forgotten, he will continue liable to the same errors. By recurring, however, to other subjects, which induce in like manner a new set of influences over him, or by mingling in the bustle of the world, which equally give a new tone to his feelings, the former influences and their subtle, ethereal, and indescribable causes are forgotten, and he reads his own productions like other men. He then perceives that the feelings which he has described could not naturally arise from the causes or agencies to which he has ascribed them; and as the real causes which co-operated in producing them have not now even an ideal existence, their shadowy nature being too airy and unsubstantial to lay any fixed hold on bis memory, their influences are consequently unfelt, and the feelings which he described, and of which they were partly the cause, are perceived to be unnatural even by himself.

When we say that these causes prevent the poet, in many instances, from being affected as he ought by his own creations, no matter whether these creations be poetic images, poetic associations, tragic situations, or that ideal, indescribable brood

VOL. IX. PART II.

T

which we have already mentioned, we do not mean to say that there are not many other causes which co-operate in producing the effect. We could mention many more, but it is sufficient to shew that such causes exist, and that consequently the poet, however exquisite and refined his feelings may be, is liable to be imposed upon by the creations of his own mind, and that he is only capable of perceiving his errors when the influence of these creations are past and gone; and the more susceptible his feelings are, and the more exquisitely “ alive to each fine impulse,” the more liable is he to be influenced by them, and consequently the more he is placed under the necessity of revising and correcting if he would do all that justice to his feelings of which he is capable,-for the man of no feeling may revise and re-revise, and revise for ever, and he will still be the dunce which he was at the commencement. This is rendered sufficiently evident by the quantity of poetic trash which is published at present; and yet critics will maintain, that the evil arises from too much correction. But what do poets gain by availing themselves of the license granted them by modern criticism, for every fault which they commit, no matter whether it arises from negligence, want of genius, want of revision, or any other want, is attacked, sneered at, and ridiculed by those very critics who encourage them to spurn the trammels of rigid examination and repeated perusal. We are every day reading in reviews the exposure of faults, which the reviewers themselves ought to sanction and defend if they were governed by the laws which they themselves have made. The fact is, that according to the system of criticism which has been practised in this country during the last twenty years, the greatest beauties may be turned into ridicule, and the greatest faults held up as models of perfection.

One fact, however, ought to suffice to open the eyes of those who are inveigled by the critics—those critics who first encourage them to commit faults, and then lash them for it: it is, that no poet ever became immortal, ever retained even a secondhand reputation, who did not revise and revise, and revise again. Horace's advice on this subject is worth that of all the reviewers now illumining the world with their romantic, dreams. He advises the poet who would secure immortality, to hold back his work nine years. Virgil wished to destroy the Eneid, because he had not time to put a finishing hand to it, to give it all that finished excellence of which he knew. himself capable. “Statius," as Dr. Johnson observes, “ amidst all his pride and indigence, the two great hasteners of modern poems, employed twelve years upon the Thebaid, and thinks his claim to renown proportionate to his labours.

« AnteriorContinuar »