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we had heard at different times two common sailors, each speaking of some one who had wronged or offended him; that the first with apparent violence had devoted every part of his adversary's body and soul to all the horrid phantoms and fantastic places that ever Quevedo dreamt of, and this in a rapid flow of those outrè and wildly combined execrations, which too often with our lower classes serve for escape-valves to carry off the excess of their passions, as so much superfluous steam that would endanger the vessel if it were retained. The other, on the contrary, with that sort of calmness of tone which is to the ear what the paleness of anger is to the eye, shall simply say, “If I chance to be made boatswain, as I hope I soon shall, and can but once get that fellow under my hand (and I shall be upon the watch for him), I'll tickle his pretty skin! I won't hurt him! oh no! I'll only cut the
to the liver !" I dare appeal to all present, which of the two they would regard as the least deceptive symptom of deliberate malignity? nay, whether it would surprize them to see the first fellow, an hour or two afterward, cordially shaking hands with the very man, the fractional parts of whose body and soul he had been so charitably disposing of; or even perhaps risking his life for him. What language Shakespear considered characteristic of malignant disposition, we see in the speech of the good-natural Gratiano, who spoke "an infinite deal of nothing more than any man in all Venice;"
Too wild, too rude and bold of voice,"
the skipping spirit, whose thoughts and words reciprocally ran away with each other;
O be thou damnd, inexorable dog !
and the wild fancies that follow, contrasted with Shylock's tranquil “ I stand here for Law.”
Or, to take a case more analogous to the present subject, should we hold it either fair or charitable to believe it to have been Dante's serious wish, that all the persons mentioned by him, (many recently departed, and some even alive at the time,) should actually suffer the fantastic and horrible punishments, to which he has sentenced them in his hell and purgatory? Or what shall we say of the passages in which Bishop Jeremy Taylor anticipates the state of those who, vicious themselves, have been the cause of vice and misery to their fellow-creatures. Could we endure for a moment to think that a spirit, like Bishop Taylor's, burning with Christian love; that a man constitutionally overflowing with pleasurable kindliness; who scarcely even in a casual illustration introduces the image of woman, child, or bird, but he embalms the thought with so rich a tenderness, as makes the very words seem beauties and fragments of poetry from a Euripides or Simonides ;--can we endure to think, that a man so natured and so disciplined, did at the
time of composing this horrible picture, attach a sober feeling of reality to the phrases? or that he would have described in the same tone of justification, in the same luxuriant flow of phrases, the tortures about to be inflicted on a living individual by a verdict of the Star-Chamber? or
the still more atrocious sentences executed on the Scotch
anti-prelatists and schismatics, at the command, and in some instances under the very eye of the Duke of Lauderdale, and of that wretched higot who afterwards dishonored and forfeited the throne of Great Britain? Or do we not rather feel and understand, that these violent words were mere bubbles, flashes and electrical apparitions, from the magic cauldron of a fervid and ebuliant fancy, constantly fuelled by an unexampled opulence of language?
Were I now to have read by myself for the first time the Poem in question, my conclusion, I fully believe, would be, that the writer must have been some man of warm feelings and active fancy; that he had painted to himself the circumstances that accompany war in so many vivid and yet fantastic forms, as proved that neither the images nor the feelings were the result of observation, or in any way derived from realities. I should judge, that they were the product of his own seething imagination, and therefore impregnated with that pleasurable exultation which is experienced in all energetic exertion of intellectual power ; that in the same mood he had generalized the
causes of the war, and then personified the abstract and christened it by the name which he had been accustomed to hear most often associated with its management and mea
I should guess that the minister was in the author's mind at the moment of composition, as completely anasinis, drapócaqxos, as Anacreon's grasshopper, and that he had as little notion of a real person of flesh and blood,
“ Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,"
as Milton had in the grim and terrible phantoms (half person, half allegory) which he has placed at the gates of Hell. I concluded by observing, that the Poem was not calculated to excite passion in any mind, or to make any impression except on poetic readers; and that from the culpable levity, betrayed in the grotesque union of epigrammatic wit with allegoric personification, in the allusion to the most fearful of thoughts, I should conjecture that the "rantin Bardie," instead of really believing, much less wishing, the fate spoken of in the last line, in application to any human individual, would shrink from passing the verdict even on the Devil himself, and exclaim with poor Burns,
But fare ye weel, auld Nickie-ben!
Still hae a stake-
Ev’n for your sake!
I need not say that these thoughts, which are here dilated, were in such a company only rapidly suggested. Our kind host smiled, and with a courteous compliment observed, that the defence was too good for the cause. My voice faultered a little, for I was somewhat agitated; though not so much on my own account as for the uneasiness that so kind and friendly a man would feel from the thought that he had been the occasion of distressing me. At length I brought out these words : “ I must now confess, Sir! that I am the author of that Poem. It was written some years ago. I do not attempt to justify my past self, young as I then was; but as little as I would now write a similar poem, so far was I even then from imagining, that the lines would be taken as more or less than a sport of fancy. At all events, if I know my own heart, there was never a moment in my existence in which I should have been more ready, had Mr. Pitt's person been in hazard, to interpose my own body, and defend his life at the risque of my own."
I have prefaced the Poem with this anecdote, because to have printed it without any remark might well have been understood as implying an unconditional approbation on my part, and this after many years consideration. But if it be asked why I re-published it at all ? I answer, that the Poem had been attributed at different times to different other persons; and what I had dared beget, I thought it neither