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There is one species of egotism which is truly disgusting ; not that which leads us to communicate our feelings to others, but that which would reduce the feelings of others to an identity with our own. The atheist, who exclaims, “pshaw!" when he glances his eye on the praises of Deity, is an egotist: an old man, when he speaks contemptuously of Love-verses, is an egotist: and the sleek favourites of fortune are egotists, when they condemn all “ melancholy, discontented” verses. Surely, it would be candid not merely to ask whether the poem pleases ourselves, but to consider whether or no there may not be others, to whom it is well calculated to give an innocent pleasure.
I shall only add, that each of my readers will, I hope, remember, that these poems on various subjects, which he reads at one time and under the influence of one set of feelings, were written at different times and prompted by very different feelings; and therefore that the supposed inferiority of one poem to another may sometimes be owing to the temper of mind, in which he happens to peruse it.
My poems have been rightly charged with a profusion of double-epithets, and a general turgidness. I have pruned the double-epithets with no sparing hand; and used my best efforts to tame the swell and glitter both of thought and diction. This latter fault however had insinuated itself into my "Religious Musings” with such intricacy of union, that sometimes I have omitted to disentangle the weed from the fear of snapping the flower. A third and heavier accusation has been brought against me, that of obscurity ; but not, I think, with equal justice. An author is obscure, when his conceptions are dim and imperfect, and his language incorrect, or inappropriate, or involved. A poem that abounds in allusions, like the Bard of Gray, or one that impersonates high and abstract truths, like Collins's Ode on the poetical character, claims not to be popular-but should be acquitted of obscurity. The deficiency is in the reader. But this is a charge which every poet, whose imagination is warm and rapid, must expect from his contemporaries. Milton did not escape it; and it was adduced with virulence against Gray and Collins. We now hear no more of it: not that their poems are better understood at present, than they were at their first publication; but their fame is established; and a critic would accuse himself of frigidity or inattention, who should profess not to understand them. But a living writer is yet sub judice; and if we cannot follow his conceptions or enter into his feelings, it is more consoling to our pride to consider him as lost beneath, than as soaring above us. If any man expect from my poems the same easiness of style which he admires in a drinking-song, for him I have not written. Intelligibilia, non intellectum adfero.
* Without any feeling of anger, I may yet be allowed to express some degree of surprise, that after having run the critical gauntlet for a certain cla of faults, which I had, viz., a too ornate, and elaborately poetic diction, and nothing having come before the judgment-seat of the Reviewers during the long interval, I should for at leas. seventeen years, quarter after quarter, have been placed by them in the foremost rank of the proscribed, and made to abide the brunt of abuse and ridicule for faults directly opposite, viz. bald and prosaic language, and an affected simplicity both of matter and manner-faults which assuredly did not enter into the character of my compositions.
I expect neither profit nor general fame by my writings; and I consider myself as having been amply repaid without either. Poetry has been to me its own “exceeding great reward :" it has soothed my afflictions; it has multiplied and refined my enjoyments ; it has endeared solitude; and it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the Good and the Beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me.*
S. T. C.
* The above Preface was prefixed by the author to the third edition of the Juvenile Poems, in 1803, and transferred by him without alteration to the collected edition of his poetical works in 1828. It is made up from the Prefaces to the first two editions of his Poems, and referred, in the first instance, to the earlier productions of his Muse. In the Preface to the Sibylline Leaves, which he did not reprint, he states that that collection was “presented to the reader as perfect as the author's skill and powers could render them;" adding, that “ henceforward he must be occupied by studies of a very different kind." The motto which appears on a subsequent page is taken from the same place, and points to a similar conclusion.