« PředchozíPokračovat »
thereto by a dark picture of the ills he must endure, and the scorn he must encounter, especially in America. What he thought of the old Italian's communications, Mr Percival does not tell us; for here his poem abruptly closes, without even informing us, as is usual in such cases, whether he has ever awaked from his dream. We hope that he has not; for we should be sorry to impute to him in his waking hours, the sentiments which he has put into the mouth of Dante. They might be suited to the times in which that bard flourished, but are certainly out of date in the nineteenth century. For example ;
• If thy heart
To many a painful struggle.'
· Let it not depress thee,
To the scant compass of a parlor piece-
A hermit, and thy cell may show like his.' Perhaps it will prove us to have a very prosaic temperament, if we take up
passages seriously ; but we must run the risk of this, and say that we hold them to be altogether wrong and mischievous. It is mere cant to talk in this style about the miseries of poets at the present day. They are under no necessity to be miserable, more than other men of genius, except through their own fault. The world, instead of scorning, courts them; instead of slandering, honors them; and if they will but write good verse, suitable to be read, will buy it till they become rich. How far the proverb anciently applied to poets, that they are a genus irritabile, is true in these days, we shall not attempt to decide ; but if they choose to be reserved and suspicious, to reject the proffered courtesies of society, and shrink from converse with men, and stubbornly pursue their own fancies, without consulting the taste of the public and the established modes of their art, it is more than probable, that the world will cease to court them, and will leave them to themselves, as it does every other man, who chooses not to mix in its circles upon an equal footing. But this is not peculiar to poets; it applies to every person, whatever his talents, pursuits, or qualities. The courtesies of social intercourse are in their nature reciprocal, and it is vain to expect them long to be continued on one part, where they are neglected or disregarded on the other. No man of worth, poet or not, who seeks the notice and good oflices of society, with a willingness to impart what he receives, will fail of his reward in full measure ; and it is an unjust reflection on the age, to speak of the ill treatment of men of genius. The
VOL. XXII.30. 51.
fact is otherwise; no men are so much honored, caressed, and confided in. It were as reasonable for a cabinetmaker to complain of want of patronage, because men would not go down to his workshop on an island in the harbor, and purchase furniture, which he has made of the most fantastic and unfashionable forms. Let him come up to the city, and make such sofas and tables as other men do, and as much handsomer as he pleases. Campbell, Scott, Crabbe, Moore, and Byron, are standing testimonies, that the world does not now compel poets to poverty and contempt; though the last of them did his utmost to drive matters to that extremity.
In regard to the second passage quoted above, we are ready to assent with all our hearts to whatever tribute it contains to the distinguished and excellent artist referred to. We would not fall a note below any one in our eulogy. But we cannot by any means allow the sentiment of the passage to be just. For what is it, when put into plain English? That if this community were not so absorbed in common wants and common pleasures,' as to be absolutely without taste or sensibility in the fine arts, they would, by "generous gifts,' enable their great artist to devote himself to his mighty task,' without being called away to execute smaller works for his living; as if this employment were so degrading, that the public are bound to save him from it by a subscription,--secure his independence by a charitable contribution! This is as if a poet should complain, that the nation has not provided him with lodgings, that he may leisurely write an epic poem, and be rescued from the degradation of odes and sonnets, which it wounds his feelings to have sold in the bookstores. For ourselves, we wish that Allston would multiply a hundred fold his minor works; because the records of his fame would be thus multiplied, and the influence of his genius extended. We should be glad, if one of his parlor pieces’ were hung up in every drawingroom in the country, that the taste of the community might thus be prepared to comprehend and relish some greater work hereafter.
If the poem under notice were the performance of an ordinary writer, we should leave it here ; satisfied that we had done our duty to the poet and to the public. But Mr Percival is too important a man, and his example of too great influence, to admit of our leaving unsaid a few other things, which have suggested themselves to our thoughts. The course of our remarks must have rendered it evident, that we have read this poem with a
great mixture of feelings ; and we are not willing to lay down the
pen, till we have stated a little more at length some of the circumstances, which have detracted from our pleasure, and which forbid our leaving it to be inferred, that the fine extracts which we have made, are specimens of the equal merit of the whole.
We think, then, that there is an excessive diffuseness in the style of Mr Percival. It is not sufficiently compact. It wants pith and point; it lacks the energy, which conciseness imparts. Every thing is drawn out as far as possible, always flowing and sweet, and therefore sometimes languid and monotonous. His poetry is too much diluted. It consists too much in words, which music to the ear, but too often send a feeble echo of the sense to the mind. There is also a superabundance of images in proportion to the thoughts; they skip about the magical scene in such numbers, that they stand in the way of one another and of the main design. He is too careless in selection; whatever occurs to him he puts down and lets it remain. He is not master of
• That last, the greatest art,—the art to blot.' Writing, as he evidently does, from the fulness of an excited mind, upon the impulse of the moment ; his thoughts crowd one another, and cannot always fall at once into their places and in the happiest expression. There will be confusion sometimes in their ranks, and want of due proportion. This can only be remedied by the free use of the pruning knife--cutting down sentences, changing epithets, rejecting superfluities, expelling parentheses, and various other mechanical operations, to which a less gifted but more patient author would resort. By the neglect of this, he does the greatest injustice to his own powers. Every thing wears an extemporaneous and unfinished appearance. Strength and weakness are most strangely combined, and passages of surpassing elegance and magnificence crowded in amongst slovenly and incomplete. Hence it is rare to meet with a paragraph of any length equally sustained throughout. Flaws show themselves in the most brilliant, and the reader is compelled to stop with a criticism in the midst of his admiration. Instead of giving us, like other poets, the finished work, he gives us the first rough draft; as if Phidias should have ceased laboring on his statues as soon as the marble assumed a human semblance. It is the last touches, which create perfection. It is in them that immortality lies. It is they that remove the last corruptible particles, and leave the mass indestructible. Without them, Virgil
, Pope, and Milton, would have gone down to forgetfulness, and Demosthenes and Bossuet have been remembered only by tradition. But Mr Percival, through impatience of labor or some false notions, declines the necessary toil, and takes his chance for immortality in company with imperfection.
For this reason, his powers are displayed to greater advantage in particular passages and in short pieces, than in any extended composition. At a single heat he may strike out a fine conception, and give it the happiest shape. But when his thoughts and pen run on through successive parts of a subject, he easily loses himself in a wilderness of words, beautiful and musical, but conveying indistinct impressions; or rather conveying impressions instead of ideas; reminding us of poetry read while we are falling asleep, sweet and soothing, but presenting very shadowy images. Yet no man has more felicity in expression, or more thoroughly delights and fascinates in his peculiar passages. He has a superior delicacy and richness of imagery, together with an extraordinary affluence of language, of which he can well afford to be, as he is, lavish. It is probably a consciousness of this opulence, which betrays him so often into verbiage. He throws away images and words with a profusion which astonishes more economical men, and which would impoverish almost any one else. He may possibly afford it, yet a discreet frugality of expenditure would be far more wise; as a simple, chastened elegance is far preferable to a wasteful display, which exhibits its whole wardrobe and furniture without selection or arrangement. We find it difficult to select a passage, which
may illustrate our remarks, as those which are most to our purpose run on, line after line, almost indefinitely. The following example is within as small a compass as any.
· With such a gifted spirit, one may read