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The learned Professor disclaims the assumption of attempting to give an exact definition of the term poetry; and yet it is apparent from the whole course of his argument, that he considers himself to have conceived and stated all the component elements of it. If he has not done this, he cannot be justified in assuming, that the principles he has laid down are adequate to the determination of the question which he considers himself in a position to solve—the question, what writers enjoying the reputation of being poets deserve to rank in the first class? How can those principles furnish him with satisfactory criteria of true poetry, if they do not evolve all the essential elements which make up that conception! Now, from the full and reiterated statement which he has given of those principles, the reader must gather, that he considers poetry to be,-the reserved expression of inward feeling seeking this relief in the forms of rhythm or metre, and most commonly calling in the aid of the imagination. Some such idea of poetry we feel ourselves justified in ascribing to our author, and our readers, we think, will be of opinion, that the lengthened analysis above given warrants our conclusion.
Now, though we ought to feel, and though we do feel, some diffidence in stating an opinion on such a subject at variance with that of so accomplished a writer, yet we confess ourselves not altogether satisfied with this statement; not that it appears to us to contain anything wrong, but we do not think it contains enough. There is something essential to poetry more than is here stated.
The quality of reserve in the expression of feeling, which Mr. Keble traces in all poetry, is certainly a most important element; and the development of this constituent as being so essential, came upon our mind with all the charm of truth. To what Mr. Keble has said, we may add, that it is this quality of reserve which explains, in great measure, the fact, that a metrical, or at least rhythmical, dress has been in all ages felt to be proper to poetical composition. The expression of feeling is in this way taken out of the language of real and ordinary life. It is the modest veil with which the sensitive spirit invests herself, when disclosing her form in some measure to public observation.
We may even go farther; and notwithstanding the vehemence with which the living Coryphæus of contemporary poets * has denounced what is called poetic diction, and though we are far from defending the insipid and lifeless manner of speaking,
* See Preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads,' affixed to the third volume of the last edition of Mr. Wordsworth's Collected Works.
with which pedantry has vitiated much really good poetry, (as by nicknaming the sun Phoebus, and by employing phraseology striking only from its barbarisms or solecisms), and though, further, the constant practice of Mr. Wordsworth himself, and of all great poets occasionally, has proved that such a diction is by no means essential to poetry,-granting all this, still a usage so general in all ages and languages does favour, as we think, the belief, that poets are at liberty, and are not unnaturally led by the very reserve which belongs to their character as such, to employ language which is really remote from that of ordinary life, and which in good prose, however excited the feelings may be, no sane mind would ever think of employing. Such language may be, as well as metre, a part of the poetical disguise.
But reserve, and metre, and imagination, do not alone make up the true notion of poetry. A metrical writer may convey a reserved expression of his feelings by the means of imagery which shall be repulsive, and even disgusting. Now, we do not see how, consistently with the views which have been drawn from the lectures, we could refuse to such a writer the name of a poet. He shall be reserved in the expression of deep feelings; he shall gather images akin to the subject which interests him; and he shall invest the whole with the forms of metre; but Mr. Keble would at once decline to give him so exalted a title. And why? We have no doubt that Mr. Keble would answer, though he has omitted to state the principle; because it is essential to poetry that it shall in some way or other blend with its representations the idea, (if we may use the word in so Platonistic a sense,) of beauty or sublimity. We say, we do not doubt that Mr. Keble would give such an answer, from a single passage—the only one which we have noticed—which he has let fall tending to this conclusion, and which we have not omitted to include in our foregoing abstract.
Quicquid pietatis ergo paullo exquisitius ac venustius a colonis exco. gitari videant (homines literati) ; sive ad locorum, sive ad mortuorum, sive ad Numinis religionem pertineat; id statim poetis, quasi proprium, tradi ac condonari volunt.'-- vol. i. p. 24.
The words ac venustius include the principle, the distinct enunciation of which we deem necessary, in order to integrate the notion of poetry which the lectures before us leave on the reader's mind.
The ideas of the beautiful or the sublime may be blended with the representation, so as to constitute it poetry, in various ways. They may be connected with the imagery employed, as is done either when the imagery is drawn from objects
palpably characterised by those qualities, such as the forms of external nature—the skies, the sea, or the like; or when it is drawn from objects in the moral world, affecting the mind with feelings analogous to those which are excited by the contemplation of the beautiful or the sublime in nature, such as a mother's love, a hero's self-devotion, or the like. Again; these ideas may attach to the feeling itself which is pourtrayed ; it may in its own nature be beautiful or sublime; as is usually the case with devotional poetry. Or, lastly, the diction in which the poet conveys his thoughts may, by its symmetry, (so to speak) and by the sweetness of its measures, communicate to the mind the required perception, just as music does. But in whatever way it is done, whether by the imagery employed, or by the feeling expressed, or by the diction, there must in all real poetry be presented to the mind, the sublime or the beautiful.
If this be not self-evident, it will be apparent on a consideration of the illustrations of the poetical which Mr. Keble has himself collected. In the anecdote of the youthful Perdiccas, both the imagery employed and the feeling expressed convey the required sentiment. In the gleams of the poetical discovered in the conduct of uneducated countrymen, the love of home, and grief for departed friends are surely in themselves beautiful and graceful; the veneration for crosses connects itself immediately with the recollection of the loftiest exhibition of moral beauty and sublimity which the world ever beheld; while the habit of mind which associates the unseen and Divine with human life, if it does not cower into superstition, exalts to the sublime. In painting, sculpture, and architecture, the required ideas are too obviously present to need a moment's examination.
And if we turn to the first phenomena of the art which have been above referred to; the presence of the same element is evident in respect to the sentence pronounced in Eden, both in the dignity and grandeur of the occasion and in the mercy which then 'rejoiced against judgment ;' the sense of an avenging Nemesis communicates to Lamech's lamentation an air of awful sublimity; while the sentiment proper to an exalted position and to the consciousness of the presence of Inspiring Deity, adds a majesty to the oracles of Noah, of Isaac, of Jacob, and of Moses, which alone, independently of other considerations, will satisfy the requirement for which we are contending. In the poetical remains of barbarous countries, a similar element of beauty or sublimity may be detected; if not otherwise, at least in the association which, in a savage mind, may have been formed between such emotions and those of revenge or ferocity. But in every case, we are persuaded, that the principle, the exposition of which we desiderate in Mr. Keble's analysis of poetry, will be found to be not merely present, but even essential. We may further remark, that if poetry be, as Mr. Keble truly states, a mode which the human heart has recourse to in order to relieve itself of its deeper emotions, then it may from this hypothesis be inferred, that poetry involves the element which we have now been speaking of; for this relief is most effectually gained, when the mind is able to repose in the contemplation of an objective image of its feeling which is in itself pleasing; and it becomes pleasing by blending in its structure what is gratifying to the taste. We close our somewhat extended article by observing, that it is this principle which, along with that of reserve before referred to, fully explains the employment by poets of rhythm or metre; for the connexion existing between harmony and sweetness of sounds and the perception of beauty is of course obvious.
Art. III. Songs for the Nursery. Glasgow, David Robertson : London, Longman and Co. 1844. THE love of song is instinctive to childhood. Rhyme has a special charm for it. The repetition of the same sounds both gratifies the ear and excites the memory. We hope never to be the victims of that callousness of heart, which can hear unmoved the shrill voices of buoyant children engaged in brisk, though rather tumultuous concert. We confess we have a peculiar relish for that melody which is made in the nursery, and therefore made in the heart—which is formed upon the tongue untaught to guile—and is the ready creation of that period of happy, tuneful simplicity— When thought is speech, and speech is truth.
These ‘Songs' are not the senseless jingles which often pass under the name of nursery rhymes. They are not a collection of such snatches and ditties—the remnant of the superstitious legends, and fables of the olden times of darkness and deception. We know not whether the absurdity or the cruelty be greater of instilling into children’s minds those idle stories of wizard, fairy, or demon, which too often cling to memory through life, and are the source of much annoyance and misery to the young and confiding heart. The celebrated Dr. Reid, the Scotch metaphysician, had been so trained in these silly notions, that he could not at any time of his life enter a dark room without feeling some vague terror, without experiencing a transient shudder creep over him from some undefinable source. But the songs in the book before us are original compositions. Each one of them has a wholesome moral, or illustrates some salutary proverb or maxim. The poetry is racy and picturesque—quite simple enough for a child to understand, yet fitted to exercise the mind, and elevate the feelings. Many of these songs remind us in pathos and lyric power of the best and purest lays of Burns. They are the compositions of different authors, and vary of course in merit. Yet having been written expressly for this publication, all of them keep the primary design in view; and the majority of them are not surpassed in humour or imagery, in spirit or mechanism, by any compositions that have of late issued from the Scottish press. These rhymes are in Scotch—no objection certainly to their reception north of the Tweed. The Scotch is not a vulgar provincial dialect, rude and uncouth, such as abounds in many of the counties of England. It is more an independent dialect than English, is far purer, has far more of the features of its Saxon ancestry, and has not mixed up with its vocabulary so many foreign terms from Norman-French and Latin. It approximates in sound and meaning the most classic of European tongues, the language of Luther and Goethe. As Lord Jeffrey also remarks, “the Scotch is in reality a highly poetical language, and it is an ignorant as well as illiberal prejudice, which would seek to confound it with the barbarous dialects of Yorkshire or Devon.” Even in England it is advantageous to know Scotch, the Waverley novels cannot be relished without it. And the English lawyer, in the higher walks of his profession, when appeals are made from Scotland to the House of Lords, must be versant in this antique tongue. So that the language of these songs does not by any means preclude their circulation in the south. An excellent glossary both for pronunciation and meaning is appended to the poems. The best of these songs have been often quoted. We shall merely cite as a specimen two of those that have not obtained such newspaper currency. HAPPY HARVEST. AIR- Of a the airts the win’ can blaw.” ‘Again has happy harvest come To cheer ilk cottage hearth, To sweeten lowly labour's toils Wi' happiness an' mirth; For lichtsome hearts are owre the lawn, An' plenty owre the lea, Saeye shall welcome harvest in, My bonny bairns, wi' me.