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Readers own experience, of the reluctance with which he comes to the re-perusal of the distressful parts of Clarissa Harlowe, or the Gamester. While Shakespear's writings, in the most pathetic scenes, never act upon us as pathetic beyond the bounds of pleasure an effect, which is in a great degree to be ascribed to small, but continual, and regular impulses of pleasureable surprise from the Metrical arrangement On the other hand (what it must be allowed will much more frequently happen) if the Poet's words should be incommensurate with the passion, and inadequate to raise the Reader to a height of desirable excite. ment, then (unless the Poet's choice of his Metre has been grossly injudicious) in the feelings of pleasure which the Reader has been accustomed to connect with Metre in general, and in the feeling, whether chearful or melancholy, which he has been ace customed to connect with that particular movement of Metre, there will be found something, which will greatly contribute to impart passion to the words, and to effect the complex end which the Poet proposes to himself.
If I had undertaken a systematic defence of the theory upon which these Poems are written, it would have been my duty to develope the various causes upon which the pleasure received from Metrical language depends. Among the chief of these causes is to be reckoned a principle, which must be well known to those who have made any of the Arts the object of accurate reflection; I mean the pleasure which the mind derives from the perception of similitude in dissimilitude. This principle is the great spring of the activity of our minds and their chief feeder. From this principle the direction of the sexual appetite, and all the passions connected with it, take their origin. It is the life of our ordinary conversation; and upon the accuracy with which similitude in dissimilitude, and dissimilitude in similitude arc perceived, depend our taste and our moral feelings. It would not have been a useless employment to have applied this principle to the consideration of Metre, and to have shewn, that Metre is hence enabled to afford much pleasure, and to have pointed out in what manner that pleasure is produced. But my limits will not permit me to enter upon this subject, and I must content myself with a general Summary.
I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. It takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity; the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, similar to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradualby produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will upon the whole be in a state of enjoyment. Now if Nature be thus cautious in preserving in a state of enjoyment a being thus employed, the Poet ought to profit by the lesson thus held forth to him, and ought especially to take care, that whatever passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions, if his Reader's mind be sound and vigorous, should always be accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure. Now the music of harmonious Metrical language, the sense of difficulty overcome, and the blind association of pleasure which has been previously received from works of Rhymė or Metre of the same or similar construction, all these imperceptibly make up a complex feeling of delight, which is of the most important use in tempering the painful feeling which will always be found intermingled with powerful descriptions of the deeper passions. This effect is always produced in pathetic and impassioned Poetry; while in lighter compositions the ease and gracefulness with which the Poet manages his numbers are themselves confessedly a principal source of the gratification of the Reader. I might perhaps include all which it is neccessary to say upon this subject by affirming what few persons will deny, that of two descriptions either of passions, manners or characters, each of them equally well executed, the one in Prose and the other in Verse, the Verse will be read a hundred times where the Prose is read once. We see that Pope by the power of Versc alone, has contrived to render the plainest common sense interesting, and even frequently to invest it with the appearance of passion. In consequence of these convictions I related in Metre
the Tale of GOODY BLAKE AND HARRY GILL, which is one of the rudest of this collection. I wished to draw attention to the truth that the power of the human imagination is sufficient to produce such changes even in our physical nature as might almost appear miraculous. The truth is an important one; the fact (for it is a fact) is a valuable illustration of it. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that it has been cominunicated to many hundreds of people who would never have heard of it, bad it not been narrated as a Ballad, and in a more impressive Metre than is usual in Ballads.
Having thus adverted to a few of the reasons why I have written in Verse, and why I have chosen subjects from common life, and endeavoured to bring my language near to the real language of men, if I have been too minute in pleading my own .cause, I have at the same time been treating a subject of genesal interest: and it is for this reason that I request the Reader's permission to add a few words with reference solely to these -particular Poems, and to some defects which will probably be found in them. I am sensible that my associations must have sometimes been particular instead of general, and that, consequently, giving to things a false importance, sometimes from deceased impulses I may have written upon unworthy subjects; but I am less apprehensive on this account, than that my language may frequently have suffered from those arbitrary connections of feelings and ideas with particular words, from which no man can altogether protect himself. Hence I have no doubt, that in some instances, feelings even of the ludicrous may be given to my Readers by expressions which appeared to me tender and pathetic. Such faulty expressions, were I convinced they were faulty at present, and that they must necessarily continue to be so, I would willingly take all reasonable pains to
But it is dangerous to make these alterations on th: simple authority of a few individuals, or even of certain classes of men; for where the understanding of an Author is not convinced, or his feelings altered, this cannot be done without great injury to himself; for his own feelings are his stay and support, and if he sets them aside in one instance he may be induced to repeat this act till his mind loses all confidence in it
self and becomes utterly debilitated. To this it may be added, that the Reader ought never to forget that he is himself exposed to the same errors as the Poet, and perhaps in a much greater degree; for there can be no presumption in saying that it is not probable he will be so well acquainted with the various stages of meaning through which words have passed, or with the fickleness or ftability of the relations of particular ideas to each other and above all, since he is so much less interested in the subject, he may decide lightly and carelessly.
Long as I have detained my Reader, I hope he will permit me to caution him against a mode of false criticism which has been applied to Poetry in which the ianguage closely resembles that of life and nature. Such verses have been triumphed over in Parodies of which Dr. Jobnson's Stanza is a fair specimen.
“ I put my hat upon my head
Immediately under these lines I will place one of the most: juftly admired stanzas of the “ Babes in the Wood."
“ These pret:y Babes with hand in hand
In both of these stanzas the words and the order of the words, in no respect differ from the most unimpassioned conversation, There are words in both, for example, “the Strand," and the Town," connected with none but the most familiar ideas; yet the one stanza we admit as admirable; and che other as a fair example of the superlatively contemptible. Whence arises this difference? Not from the Metre, not from the language, not from the order of the words ; but the matter expressed in Dr.
Johnson's stanza is contemptible. The proper method of treating trivial and simple verses, to which Dr. Johnson's stanza would be a fair parallelism, is not not to say, this is a bad kind of Poetry, or this is not Poetry, but, this wants sense; it is neither interesting in itself, nor can lead to any thing interesting; the images neither originate in that sane state of feeling which ai ises out of thought, nor can excite thought or feeling in the Reader. This is the only sensible manner of dealing with such verses : Why trouble yourself about the species till you have previously decided upon the genus ? Why take pains to prove that an Ape is not a Newton when it is self evident that he is
not a man.
I have one requeft to make of my Reader, which is, that in judging these Poems he would decide by his own feelings genuinely, and not by reflection upon what will probably be the judge ment of others. How common is it to hear a person say, “I myself do not object to this style of composition, or this or that expression, but to such and such classes of people it will appear mean or Indicrous.” This mode of criticism, so destructive of all sound unadulterated judgement, is almost universal : I have therefore to request that the Reader would abide independently by his own feelings, and that if he finds himself affected he would not suffer such conjectures to interfere with his plea
If an Author by any single composition has impressed us with respect for his talents, it is useful to consider this as affording a presumption, that, on other occasions where we have been displeased, he nevertheless may not have written ill or absurdly; and, further, to give him so much credit for this one composition, as may induce us to review what has displeased us with more care than we should otherwise have bestowed upon it. This is not only an act of justice, but in our decisions, upon Poetry especially, may conduce in a high degree to the improvement of our own taste; for an accurate taste in Poetry and in all the other arts as Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by thought and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition. This is mentioned not wi.h so ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the most