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These Forms, he teaches us, are identical with Truth ; except, indeed, that while Truth requires for its discovery laborious research and study, these gain assent spontaneously and at once ; they are perceived and acknowledged by a sort of intuition, 't is but to look, and all is felt and known;' or, as it is again expressed, more ambitiously, but with less propriety,
these, which are
The willing soul.' We are by no means convinced, that there is this instantaneous consent to the true principles of taste. This distinction between them and other truth is in our view fanciful and baseless; and if it were of any consequence to the rest of the poem, that the question should be settled, it might easily be shown, that the sublime and beautiful, both in nature and art, require time and cultivation in order to their being duly appreciated, no less than the truths of mathematical and metaphysical science. The rude peasant lives and dies without any sensibility to the grandeur of the evening sky, and the savage exhibits no emotion as he gazes on the falls of Niagara. It is the mind which has been prepared by education, that understands and feels their greatness. So it is in the finest works of art. The barbarous nations selt no admiration for the beautiful works of Rome; the Turks express none for those that lie in ruins at Athens, and the Cossacks would have looked with supreme indifference on the splendors of the Louvre. No one fully realizes the perfection of the Apollo Belvidere till he has studied it long, or has been accustomed to sinilar works. It is characteristic of the most perfect productions in poetry, that, instead of being fully admired at first, their excellencies open upon the mind gradually in repeated perusal, and some hidden beauties there are, which disclose themselves only to a long and familiar observation. Perhaps however the author means only, that the man of highest genius possesses this intuitive perception; which would be more nearly true and more to his purpose. If it be so, then there is truth as well as beauty in the following passage, in which he asserts that no exhibitions of art can fully reach the conceptions of genius.
• Much has been thrown
Of quick Conception.' And hence it has happened, he continues, that mighty bards have lived and enjoyed all the luxuries of poetical contemplation, and perchance framed nobler songs than have ever been sung,
• and yet never
How much they felt and knew.' For invention, whether in sculpture, poetry, or painting, does not lie in the actual specimens of art which are exhibited to the world; but in the secret operations of the mind, while it contemplates in its own chambers possible forms and existences, without perhaps knowing the names of those high arts,' by which they may be communicated to other men. And on the other hand, those, who have learned to express their conceptions in these visible representations, have created works, which, being conformed to the eternal forms of things, are still beautiful and admired, though obscured by the darkness of antiquity, and veiled in languages which for centuries have ceased to be spoken.
* Though a chosen few
Unseemly ornament and fitted ill
And beauty, Time can never dim or fade. There are still, however, many, to whom these eternal laws of truth are unknown. Our poet proceeds, therefore, to draw a picture of the select few, who have retired from the vulgar herd to indulge the aspirations of their higher powers, in the solitudes of nature, and in communion with her forms. There is great beauty in the more than usual simplicity, with which these sentimental anchorites are described.
They were alone
At the sweet touch of an Apollo's lyre.' The train of thought in the succeeding passages is not easily traced, until we come to the difficulties, oppositions, wrongs, outrages, against which poets have always been condemned
to struggle, illustrated in the instances of Milton, Dante, Spenser, and Tasso. After this, the scene suddenly changes; and we find ourselves, we do not know how or why, out among the works of nature, surveying the sublime sky, and admiring the beautiful things of earth. The only purpose of this unexpected transmigration, as far as can be discovered, is to create a commodious introduction to a vision, which the poet had a few nights previous, when contemplating such a scene as he describes; which vision, however, though a natural way is thus forcibly opened for it, seems to have no actual relationship with the subject in hand, and can be admitted only on the ground, upon which Cicero claimed the citizenship for Archias, that good poetry has a claim everywhere. And truly we are willing to read verse like this, wherever we may find it. He speaks of poetry.
Though it find much on earth
To things like clouds ?' There are a great many things in the poem, which need an apology more than this invocation. It has a sadly prosaic effect to come down thus from a high flight.
His vision is of a bright and glorious mountain, on whose top is a throne, upon which sit three persons, who seem to personify three classes of the intellectual operations. This is the Seat of Intellect. As he gazes upon this—which he does throughout nineteen breathless lines, till we are out of breath ourselves, and are extremely puzzled to know what it is like, it is like so many things, and they are like so many others
then as I gazed,
Were wont to rule.' These spirits were those of distinguished poets, who were disposed in three spheres, according to the three characteristic departments of genius, or the eminence which they had obtained. The highest sphere was occupied by Homer, Milton, Shakspeare, and another poet, whom we should suppose a living one, from the description, were it allowable for him to appear among the spirits of the departed. But the names are not given, and there is such a want of distinctness in the description, that we are fairly put to our guesses, and may have guessed wrong. In the sphere beneath them there were many ;' of whom he describes two, but here again with such indistinctness, that we are not quite positive that the first is Virgil ; it may be some one else. We do not doubt that the second is Spenser. The lower sphere contained the bards of fierce and wild passion, * such spirits as have made the world turn pale.' Among them are described certain shadowy forms, which we take to be those of Æschylus, Byron, and Dante. The first is characterized in a strong expression.
• He found his pleasure
Each agonizing throb.'