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Seven," “ Lines on Tintern Abbey,” and “ Yarrow Revisited,” which assure us that, if the poet had been less ambitious, he would have been more successful. His mistake was in believing that he was born to be a great poet, and that God had given him a high and solemn poetical mission to accomplish.
It would be easy for any one familiar with Wordsworth's works to select almost any number of detached lines and passages which would seem to impugn this our unfavorable judgment, — lines and passages which secure him no inconsiderable number of admirers, among the cultivated, though chiefly of the dilettanti class, persons who have no great earnestness of character, and who find their interest in seeking for gems not too thickly strewn. These persons have delicate stomachs, and cannot take strong food in a concentrated form. They must have bread made of unbolted flower, and buy their wheat unwinnowed from its chaff. They are very good, honest, well-meaning people, but they are shocked at strong, earnest tones, or a clear, round, sonorous voice. Every one must speak under his breath, with a half lack-a-daisical air, and split his most frivolous thoughts into halves and quarters before uttering them; as some overnice young ladies are said to have been known to split a pea, and take only a part of it at a time into their sweet little mouths. Among these delicate persons we have found the greater number of Wordsworth's admirers. But a great poet is not merely great in isolated lines and passages, but he is great in the whole. From a poet or writer of the first order of genius you can never inake an extract that will not suffer by being torn from its connection. Scott has no separate passages or verses to compare with many we can select from Wordsworth; and yet what poem has Wordsworth written, which, as a whole, you can read with as much pleasure as The Lay of the Last Minstrel, or even The Lady of the Lake? And yet we do not call Scott a great poet.
We can make extracts from Wordsworth which nothing in Coleridge can match, and yet we know no poem of Wordsworth that can match either Christabel or The Ancient Mariner. No sane man would think of naming Wordsworth in the same day with Pope and Dryden, far less with Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, or Byron, the really great poets, after Shakespeare, of the English language, and we cannot but think that his popularity is owing to the frivolezza of the modern cultivated classes, and to a sort of dreamy and misty German subjectivism, which tends to conceal his poverty of meaning and his want of manly vigor.
We have expressed our judgment freely, but we have no disposition to do battle for it. For ourselves, with all his faults, which are legion, we prefer Byron to Wordsworth, and we doubt if he was much less of a Christian in his real convictions. We are far enough from holding up the character of Byron to admiration; morally, socially, politically, and religiously, we are strongly opposed to him, and we advise no one to read his poems; but he was after all a man, if with the frailties of a man, with the strong and noble qualities of a man, and as to poetical genius, though he often abused it, and terribly abused it, without a peer among modern poets in the whole civilized world. He was our Napoleon of poetry, and apparently has left no nephew to succeed him. Thinking thus of Byron, nobody can expect us to offer incense to the staid and passionless Wordsworth. But if our readers are disposed to differ with us, it is their right, and we shall not quarrel with them. We have no very strong wish to rob them of the idol which they have set up, and which is on their part rather a safe superstition. Let the road be open to them to make their pilgrimages to Rydal Mount, if such be their wish.
What we really wish to impress upon our readers is that the present taste in regard to art in most of its branches, here and abroad, is frivolous. We have in our art, aside from music, no depth of thought, no religious intuition, no conception of the Ideal, no realization of the higher and loftier kinds of the Beautiful. We lose ourselves in the Pretty, and waste our energies in perfecting minute details. The reason of this is, that we have lost religious faith, lost the earnestness of our souls, and have ceased to believe in the beautiful as in the true and the good out of ourselves. No little of what we regard as Wordsworth's failure is due to a false theory, borrowed from the Germans, that the ideal which the artist must seek to realize in forms of his own creation is in the mind itself, and is projected from the soul instead of being simply apprehended by it. Nearly all our modern theories make
the Beautiful subjective, and send the artist into himself to find it. The soul, as the work of God, certainly has its beauty, and a beauty above any other creature known to us, for it was made in the image and likeness of the Creator; but its beauty is derived, and is but a pale reflex of the Beautiful itself. To send the learner to contemplate himself, is to send him to contemplate a created beauty, as much as if you sent him to contemplate mere brute mat
The soul is beautiful, the heavens and the earth are beautiful, all nature is beautiful; but not by the beauty which is shed over it by us, or a beauty projected from our own souls. All things are beautiful by the uncreated beauty of their Creator, which they in their several degrees mirror. The true beauty is the splendor of the Creator, which shines on and through them all. The Ideal is not the soul, it is the soul's Maker, and with which the soul is created to commune. It is up to God, the eternal and infinite Beauty, the soul must be raised; and it must bathe itself in his splendor, if it would work as a true artist.
It is only a profoundly religious age that can produce or appreciate the sublime forms of art. It is not that we are born with feebler genius than our fathers that we fall so far below them in our artistic productions, but that we have not their religious faith, that we seek not beauty in its source, and neglect to commune with the real ideal. There is no God in our philosophy, there is no reality in our conceptions. We are sensists, sentimentalists, psychologists, placing ourselves in the throne of the Highest, and seeking to draw all from our own feeble natures. Such is our religion, such our philosophy, and what but worthless can be our art ? Let men return to the ontology of the Catechism which they have learned to despise, and their minds will soon be reinvigorated; genius now remaining unfolded, or developed only to prey upon itself, will expand in a genial element, will open its bosom to the Ideal as the sunflower to the star of day, and will resume its creative power. We live in an atmosphere now where genius cannot thrive. We want that religious and philosophical training which our fathers had, and which the world has not had and never can have under the influence of
your Bacons and your Descartes, your Lockes and your Condillacs, your Kants and your Cousins, your Schellings
VOL. III. NO. IV.
and your Hegels, your Coleridges and your Wordsworths. Nothing is more frivolous than nearly all modern poetry, and nearly all modern art; and they will sink lower and lower, if we do not return to the theology of the Church and the philosophy taught us by the Fathers and the great Scholastics. An age which is unable to see truth and beauty in the Summa Theologica, will never rival Dante or the old cathedrals of Europe.
The most it can do will be to copy the old masters, and excel in petty details. We must be men, strong men, living men, before we can be artists.
Art. VI. – 1. The Poor Scholar, and other Tales of Irish
Life. By WILLIAM CARLETON. New York: D. & J.
Sadlier & Co. 1854. 24mo. pp. 322. 2. New Lights, or Life in Galway. A Tale. By Mrs.
J. SADLIER. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. 1853. 24mo. pp. 443.
We complain very gravely of Messrs. Sadlier & Co. that they did not send us a copy of The Poor Scholar by Carleton. We never read it till a day or two since, but we are so well pleased with it, that we give our friends the publishers a gratuitous notice of it. It is the best thing that we have seen from Carleton, and is a deeply interesting and touching story. It is one that we can read without offence to our better feelings and our graver judgment. It paints in vivid but truthful colors the domestic virtues and affections of the Irish peasantry, without neutralizing them by placing in contrast an exaggerated picture of the vices and defects of the Irish character, of which we have heard more than enough. He is not as favorable to the Irish character as he might be, and omits many noble traits which he might have added; but he evidently has not intended to depreciate his countrymen, and upon the whole he makes one love and respect them.
New Lights, or Life in Galway, we briefly noticed on its first appearance. It is lively, brilliant, interesting, bearing
- a most
the traces of a fine and cultivated mind, as do all that we have read of Mrs. Sadlier's writings. Mrs. Sadlier is an Irish lady, with a strong and lively attachment to her country and her race, for which we honor her,inflexible Catholic, and a very interesting and agreeable lady. We could hardly be severe upon any one of her works, however objectionable it might be to us if written by another. As a critic, we aim to be impartial and just, but we are not exempt from human frailty, and a personal friend is likely to find us less inexorable than an enemy. We can see many beauties in a work written by one we love and esteem, which we might not be able to discover in the work of an author we dislike, or to whom we are indifferent. This we suppose is the case with every literary critic, though not every one will own it, and many a fault has been detected in our own writings by some of our journalists, when they would have seen only a merit if they had not taken a sort of personal aversion to us, perhaps because they had little personal acquaintance with
But however personally prejudiced we may be in Mrs. Sadlier's favor, we think we hazard nothing in saying that she is one of our very best popular writers, and by her original stories and her translations from the French is making valuable contributions to our still scanty literature.
This Life in Galway is designed to depict the character of what is called the New Reformation in Ireland, of which we have heard so much during the last few years, and shows that the number of conversions boasted of has been greatly exaggerated, and that the conversions themselves are not such as the proselyters have much reason to be proud of, for they are in no instance the result of sincere conviction, and are effected by means alike dishonorable and unchristian, — by taking advantage of the poverty and helpless condition of the people. The poor people are destitute of the means of subsistence; they see their children starving before their eyes; and they have no way
of obtaining subsistence by their own exertions. To these poor people, half distracted by the pangs of hunger, the sleek Evangelical presents himself, and proffers relief on condition that the parents will let him have their children for his proselyting school, and go themselves to the Protestant meeting, or, as they say in Ireland, to church