« НазадПродовжити »
the importance of the circumfluent ocean—and that the Poet may well find in a daisy, “ thoughts too deep for tears”—but there ever will be gradations of interest in the susceptibilities even of educated and accomplished men, and the admiration which would be recognized as just when applied to a rare or expensive object, will always appear unreal and coxcombical when lavished on what is trivial and common. Nor could these writers, as a School, be held altogether guiltless of the charge of literary conceit. The scantiness of general sympathy drove them into a coterie ; and the evils inseparable from a limited intercourse with other minds grew up and flourished abundantly amongst them. They drew their inspiration from books and from themselves, and became, in many cases unconsciously, imitators of the peculiarities, as well as of the beauties, of the elder models of language and style. It was not so much that they were guilty of affected archaisms, as that they delighted in giving that prominence to individual peculiarities, great and small, which impart to the works of some early poets an antiquarian as well as literary interest, but which had an almost comic effect when transferred to the habits and circumstances of a particular set of men in our own times. They fell into the error of demanding public and permanent attention for matters that could only claim a private and occasional interest, and thus have they not only damaged their contemporary reputation, but have barred up, in a great degree, their access to future fame.
Literary history affords us a singular parallel to the fate of this school, in that of the Italian-French poets of the seventeenth century, of whom Marino was the founder, and Boileau the de. stroyer. Allowing for the discrepancies of times and nationsthe rich and indiscriminate diction, the copious and minute exercise of fancy, the constant disproportion between the matter and the form, which caused the author of the “ Adonis” to be crowned at Naples, adored at Paris, and forgotten by posterity, were here revived, with indeed less momentary popularity, but, it is to be hoped, with a better chance of being remembered for what is really excellent and beautiful in their works. The spirit of Saint Amant, unequal in its conceptions, but admirable in its execution, might have lived again at Hampstead, with all its ostentatious
contempt of superficial morality, but with its real profligacy con. verted into a jaunty freedom and sentimental good-nature. There too the spirit of Theophile de Viau might have audaciously confronted what appeared to him as the superstition of his time, and when vilified as “ Roi des Libertins” by brutal and ignorant men, in comparison with whom his life was singularly pure, he might have been hunted thence as a felon over the face of Europe in the name of loyalty and religion. But while, in France, an ungenial and delusive criticism held up those remarkable authors to public ridicule and obloquy, at least the victims of Boileau recognized some power and faculty in the hand that struck them, whereas the reviewers of “ Blackwood and the " Quarterly" were persons evidently destitute of all poetic perception, directing an unrefined and unscrupulous satire against political opponents, whose intellectual merits they had no means of understanding. This, indeed, was no combat of literary principles, no struggle of thoughts, no competition of modes of expression, it was simply the judgment of the policeman and the beadle over mental efforts and spiritual emanations.
The article which appeared in the “Quarterly" was dull as well as ungenerous. It had no worth as criticisin, for the critic (as indeed the man) must be tested by what he admires and loves, not only by what he dislikes and abuses; and it was eminently stupid, for although the best burlesque is often but the reverse of the most valuable work of art, and the richest harvest of humor is among the high and goodly growths of human intelligence, this book, as far as the reviewer was capable of understanding it, might just as well have been one of those merely extravagant and ridiculous productions which it is sheer waste of time to notice in any way. The only impression the review would have left on the mind of a judicious reader, would have been that the writer knew nothing to enable him to discuss the subject of poetry in any way, and his avowal that he had not read, or could not read, the work he undertook to criticise, was a vulgar impertinence which should have prevented any one from reading his criticism. The notice in “ Blackwood” was still more scurriious, but more amusing, and inserted quotations of some length, which no doubt led the minds of many readers to very different conclusions from
those of the writer. The circumstance of Keats having been brought up a surgeon, is the staple of the jokes of the piece-he is told, “it is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary, than a starved poet,” and is bidden “ back to his gallipots ;', just as an orthodox Jew might have bidden Simon Peter back to his nets.
At any rate, this was hardly the way to teach refinement to low-born poets, and to show the superior breeding of aristocratic reviewers.
On looking back at the reception of Keats by his literary contemporaries, the somewhat tardy appearance of the justification of his genius by one who then held a wide sway over the taste of his time, appears as a most unfortunate incident. If the frank acknowledgment of the respect with which Keats had inspired Mr. Jeffrey, had been made in 1818 instead of 1820, the tide of public opinion would probably have been at once turned in his favor, and the imbecile abuse of his political, rather than literary, antagonists, been completely exposed. In the very first sentence of his essay, indeed, Mr. Jeffrey lamented that these works had not come under his notice earlier, and, in the late edition of his collected articles, he expresses “the additional regret that he did not even then go more largely into the exposition of the merits of one, whom he ever regards as a poet of great power and promise, lost to us by a premature death.” This notice in the “ Edinburgh Review” referred principally to “Endymion," of which, after a fair statement of objections to certain exaggerations and imperfections, it summed up the character and value as follows; and I think it nearly impossible to express, in fewer or better words, the impression usually left by this poem on those minds which, from their constitution, can claim to possess an opinion on the question.
“It [Endymion] is, in truth, at least as full of genius as of absurdity, and he who does not find a great deal in it to admire and to give delight, cannot, in his heart, see much beauty in the two exquisite dramas to which we have already alluded [the • Faithful Shepherdess' of Fletcher, and the Sad Shepherd' of Ben Jonson,] or find any great pleasure in some of the finest creations of Milton and Shakspeare. There are very many such persons we readily believe, even among the reading and judicious part of the community-correct scholars we have no doubt many
of them, and, it
and in verse, but utterly ignorant of the true genius of English poetry, and incapable of estimating its appropriate and most exquisite beauties. With that spirit we have no hesitation in saying Mr. Keats is deeply imbued, and of those beauties he has presented us with many sterling examples. We are very much inclined, indeed, to add, that we do not know any book which we would sooner employ, as a test to ascertain whether any one had in him a native relish for poetry, and a genuine sensibility to its intrinsic charm.”
This peculiar treatment of the Greek mythology, which was merely repulsive to the unscholarly views of pedants, and quite unintelligible to those who, knowing no more than Keats himself did of the Grecian language, were utterly incapable of comprehending the faculty by which the Poet could communicate with Grecian nature, is estimated by Mr. Jeffrey, with remarkable justice and force; but, perhaps, without a full conception of the process by which the will of Keats came into such entire harmony with the sensuous workings of the old Grecian spirit, that not only did his imagination delight in the same objects, but that it was, in truth, what theirs under certain circumstances might have been. He writes,
“ There is something very curious in the way in which Mr. Keats, and Mr. Barry Cornwall also, have dealt with the pagan mythology, of which they have made so much use in their poetry, Instead of presenting its imaginary persons under the trite and vulgar traits that belong to them in the ordinary systems, little more is borrowed from these than the general conception of their conditions and relations, and an original character and distinct in. dividuality is bestowed upon them, which has all the merit of invention and all the grace and attraction of the fictions on which it is engrafted. The ancients, though they probably did not stand in any great awe of their deities, have yet abstained, very much, from any minute or dramatic representation of their feelings and affections. In Hesiod and Homer they are coarsely delineated, by some of their actions and adventures, and introduced to us merely as the agents in those particular transactions, while in the Hymns, from those ascribed to Orpheus and Homer down to those
of Callimachus, we have little but pompous epithets and invocations, with a flattering commemoration of their most famous ex. ploits, and are never allowed to enter into their bosoms, or follow out the train of their feelings with the presumption of our human sympathy. Except the love-song of the Cyclops to his sea-nymph in Theocritus—the Lamentation of Venus for Adonis in Moschus, —and the more recent Legend of Apuleius, we scarcely recollect a passage in all the writings of antiquity in which the passions of an Immortal are fairly disclosed to the scrutiny and observation of men.
The author before us, however, and some of his contemporaries, have dealt differently with the subject, and sheltering the violence of the fiction under the ancient traditionary fable, have created and imagined an entire new set of characters, and brought closely and minutely before us the loves and sorrows, and perplexities of beings, with whose names and supernatural attributes we had long been familiar, without any sense or feeling of their personal character.”
It appears from the “Life of Lord Byron ” that he was excited by this article into a rage of jealous injustice. The recognition, by so high an authority, of Keats as a Poet, already great and becoming greater, was more than his patience could endure: for though he had been very well content to receive the hearty and honest admiration of Mr. Leigh Hunt and his friends, and to hold out a pretended liberal sympathy with their views and ob. jects, yet when they came to see one another closer, as they did in the latter years of his life, the mutual repugnance could no longer be concealed, and flamed up almost into hatred. The noble poet wrote to the editor of the rival review, to send him-“no more Keats, I entreat : flay him alive-if
don't, I must skin him myself. There is no bearing the driveling idiotism of the manikin." Again he writes, “Of the praises of that little
Keats--I shall observe, as Johnson did when Sheridan the actor got a pension-What! has he got a pension ? -Then it is time I should give up mine! Nobody could be prouder of the praise of the · Edinburgh' than I was, or more alive to their censures, as I showed in • English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.' At present all the men they have ever praised are degraded by that insane article. Why do n't they review and