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at the bar of criticism, they may be made ignominiously amenable for their trespasses.
Though I have not presumed to define poetry in the abstract, some conventional meaning, in which it will be expedient hereafter to employ the term, is necessary here. Poetry, then, in the sense which I propose to have always in mind, is verse, in contradistinction to prose; and this is the sense (define and dispute as we may respecting the ethereal quality itself) in which everybody uses the word. Poetry, to be complete, must be verse; and all the wit of man cannot supply a more convenient definition. Every thing else which may be insisted on as essential to good poetry is not peculiar to it, but may, with due discretion and happy effect, be incorporated in prose. Poetry cannot be separated from verse without becoming prose; nor can prose assume the form of verse without ceasing to be prose altogether. It is true that, according to common parlance, poetry in this sense may be prosaic, that is, it may have the ordinary qualities of prose, though it still retain its peculiar vehicle,-metre: and prose may be poetical, that is, it may be invested with all the customary attributes of verse, except that same peculiar and incommunicable one-metre. The change, however, is rarely to the advantage of either.
Yet when a writer of fine fancy and commanding powers of diction (like Dryden, in the instance lately quoted), from the nature and inspiration of his subject almost unconsciously grows poetical-the poetry of his thoughts, images, or facts comes out as naturally as a blush or a smile over a beautiful countenance ; his pathos, sublimity, or picturesque descriptions are in season and in place; they produce their instant effect, and are gone, like the smile or the blush, while we are gazing upon them, leaving the general aspect unchanged.
Prosaic verse, everybody knows, is what anybody may write, and nobody will endure ; nor, in a
polite age, can it, under any circumstances, be ren. dered attractive. But poetical prose, though the dullest, heaviest, clumsiest kind of literature, has, in some notorious instances, found more favour. In French, indeed, from the absolute want of a genuine poetical diction,-neither the rhythm, the rhyme, nor the reason, it may be said of the language, allowing “thoughts that breathe” to vent themselves in
words that burn,”- -a florid prose style has been adopted with signal effect in the Télémaque of Fene. lon, which no mastery of his native tongue could have made tolerable in French verse, any more than the most consummate mastery of our own could make tolerable to a good ear in English prose. I cannot stay to justify this remark, but I am sure that it is correct.
Some works of this description, however, have been extensively read in our refractory language ; but their day is gone by. The pious sentiments of “ Hervey's Meditations," recommended the fantastic style in which they were disguised to multitudes, who persuaded themselves that they were pleased, because they supposed that, in such a case, they ought to be, with fine words, and so many of them. The interesting scenes, circumstances, and actors in “ The Death of Abel,” translated from the German of Gesner, in like manner, made that farrago of bad taste a favourite book for nearly half a century. The language of the original, indeed, has such compass and capabilities for every kind of composition, that poetical prose, and even prosaic verse, may be made agreeable in it; but no versions of either, into our severe and uncompromising tongue, can rise above the dead level of mediocrity. Ossian's Poems, as Macpherson's rhapsodies were called, obtained, in their turn, a sudden, factitious, and deservedly transient reputation. From whatever relics of ancient song these may have been borrowed,-a ques. tion with which we have nothing to do at present,
they are composed in such " a Babylonish dialect," that it might be presumed no ear, accustomed to the melody of pure verse or the freedom of eloquent prose, could endure the incongruities of a style in which broken verse of various measures is blended with halting prose of unmanageable cadences and compound sentences, as difficult to read and as dissonant to hear as a strain of music would be in execution and effect, if every bar were set to a different time and in a different key. Horace's description of a heterogeneous body, compiled of flesh, fish, and fowl, to make certainly no
“Some faultless monster which the world ne'er saw"
might aptly enough be applied to characterize the cacophonous rhythm, ill-jointed clauses, and dislocated feet, in all kinds of metre, of this prodigious birth of a distempered brain ; in which iambics, trochees, .napæsts, dactyls, spondees, and every form of syllable, word, accent, or quantity, that can enter into English sentences, are jumbled in juxtaposition, like disrupted strata, where convulsions of nature have thrown down mountains and heaved up valleys.
Characteristics of Prose and Verse. There is reason as well as custom in that conventional simplicity which best becomes prose, and that conventional ornament which is allowed to verse; but splendid ornament is no more essential to verse than naked simplicity is to prose.
The gravest cirtics place tragedy in the highest rank of poetical achievements,
“Sometimes let gorgeous Tragedy,
Yet the noblest, most impassioned scenes are frequently distinguished from prose only by the cadence of the verse : which, in this species of composition, is permitted to be so loose, that where the diction is the most exquisite the melody of the rhythm can scarcely be perceived except by the nicest ear. King Lear, driven to madness by the ingratitude and cruelty of his two elder daughters, is found by the youngest, Cordelia, asleep upon a bed, in a tent in the French camp, after having passed the night in the open air, exposed to the fury of the elements during a tremendous thunder-storm. A physician and attendants are watching over the sufferer. While the dutiful daughter is pouring out her heart in tenderness over him, recounting his wrongs, his afflictions, and the horrors of the storm, the king awakes ;-but we will take the scene itself. After
some inquiries, concerning his royal patient, the physician asks .
“So please your majesty,
Be govern'd by your knowledge, and proceed
Ay, madam; in the heaviness of his sleep,
Be by, good madam, when we do awake him;
Kind and dear princess!
Mine enemy's dog,
PHYSICIAN. Madam, do you; 'tis fittest..
How does my royal lord? How fares your majesty?