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'Twas his to struggle with that perilous, age .,
Throng'd to the gate to hail their shepherd home!' . The religious spirit which animates the lines we have extracted, is one of the chief elements in Hartley Coleridge's poetry. It is not obtrusively put forward, — never, indeed, polemically; and it seems to find expression only because it could not have been excluded. It is this circumstance which gives its peculiar value to the witness he has unconsciously borne. It was because he wrote as a Humanist that he so frequently, though unintentionally, retraces the lineaments of that Divine image after which Humanity was formed. That philosophy, or rather that retrocession from philosophy, which regards man but as the first of animals, is not confined to professed books of metaphysics. However latently it may exist, it is, in fact (a circumstance far too little reflected on the informing principle of every work in literature or art, not elevated by the opposite principle. Only not all are materialists,' asserts a great philosopher. We will not dispute that only not all’tend that way, and in their lower moods, or the lower part of their nature,
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reach that end; but no one, we think, to whom Humanity is not as much a sealed book as Divinity, - no one who does not rest contented in a merely sensuous estimate of social relations and responsibilities, can be said to be a materialist, however his speculative opinions may err in that direction. In Hartley Coleridge's poetry, the whole scheme of human life is based upon a spiritual foundation'; and every natural affection shines forth, relieved against a background of religious reverence. In it the future world supplies the clue to the labyrinth of the present, and strikes the key-note to all the harmonies of a lower sphere. The region in which his spirit moves, if bedewed abundantly with . Nature's tears,' and haunted by the sighs of mournful retrospection, is yet ever sweetened by a genial atmosphere of faith and love. Amid many vicissitudes, that faith never failed, — lifting up its head through storm and shower, like the frail birth of warmth and light,' the autumnal anemony, ever shaken, but never deflowered, to which he compares it. (Vol. ii. p. 90.) That faith preserved from corruption his whole poetic world. To it he owed that moral orthodoxy which banished from his poetry the spirit of waywardness, and imparted to his estimate of life a uniformly healthy tone.
It is not sufficiently observed how much the excellence of the best poetry is a moral excellence. The beautiful is good; the
good is true,' Hartley Coleridge tells us, and his poetry illustrates the canon: yet few perhaps have recognised the full degree in which Goodness is, in eyery Art, the soul of beauty and the seal of truth. For imagination, passion, and thought, no moral substitutes, indeed, can be found; but the degree in which these gifts discharge their special functions depends mainly upon their exercise being directed by a prevailing spirit of moral wisdom. The faculties which inspire poetry need themselves to be inspired by that higher mind' whose seat is in a wise and generous heart. Without such aid poetry may indeed snatch a temporary charm from Circe; but Nature, our common mother, frowns upon her delusions. The prophet does not differ more from the sorcerer than poetry founded on Nature's goodness and truth is raised above the very highest which has no deeper sanction than that of arbitrary thought and eccentric self-will. No poet is strong enough to stand by himself. It is not what he says, but what Nature says through him, which can endure; not his own thoughts, but the thoughts and experience of universal man, cast in the mould of an all-embracing and sincere imagination. With little of truth or wisdom a poet may indeed delight his own age, or a clique in it; since with its errors his own will so far correspond that he will be in some
even to the ser have been the knight-which cast n
sort the expositor and interpreter of them: but his power is transient; for while truth is ever one, error is ever changing; and with later generations his peculiarities will be out of date.
That the poets whose works have become universal — that Homer and Shakspeare were wise and human-hearted men,-nay, that in mind and moral sense, if not in habitual conduct also, they were good men, we all feel to be true, though we cannot prove the fact. It is worth noticing, however, how many of a less exalted order have owed their estimation in a large measure to what may be called the moral sense of their poetry. What would Chaucer have been without that cordiality which imparts a frank kindliness to the ruder, and even to the coarser touches of his caustic humour? What would Spenser have been without that chivalrous ideal, both older and younger than the knight-errantry which furnished matter for his song, and that purity which cast no fabled light upon his fairy bowers ? To descend lower, what would have been Cowper's rank in literature if his verse had not been as sane as its author was sometimes distraught in mind;' or that of Burns, if his appreciation of courage, patriotism, domestic virtue, and humble worth, had not exceeded tenfold the sensual and lawless elements in his poetry? It would be equally easy to point out recent poets whose reception with future times will not be in proportion to their estimation in that age which they flattered by kindred weaknesses or partaken errors, even while they denounced its institutions and warred on its conventions. As easy would it be to show how far the difference between what they did and what they might have done, is attributable to a waywardness which preferred originality in error before a truth held in common with the many, to a vanity which turned away from the universal heritage in order to make idols of special acquisitions or individual gifts, and to an egotism which interposed the image of self between the poet and the face of earth and heaven. Nor would it be difficult to point out other poets of the same era, belonging to the catholic, not the sectarian, schools of poetry, who with very various degrees of power, have yet used it aright, and reaped their reward: poets who would scarcely have been good writers if they had not been good men, but who understood the greatness of their vocation, and preserved such a loyal reverence for truth and virtue, that they maintained, at least, the balance of the soul, and suffered not their infirmities to suppress their aspirations, to ascend into the region of their moral mind, and to usurp their functions of poetic power. The result is, that their works contain more than their authors consciously put into them; and
that for no small period they will delight and elevate their readers, because, however contracted may be the mirrors which they hold up to Nature and to Man, they are capable of casting at least an undistorted reflection.
But to return. Descriptive power is eminently among the merits of the poems before us. In illustration, we may point the reader's attention to the sonnets beginning . The mellow * year is hastening to its close," New Year's Day, May, 1832, • Summer Rain' and many more. Still more remarkably do they exhibit the faculty for critical disquisition. Criticism, indeed, is seldom looked for in poetry; nor has the attempt often proved successful, from the time of Pope's Essay on Criticism to our own days. It belongs to the class of didactic poetry; and assuredly although to instruct as well as to delight is the indirect office, if not the immediate aim, of every art, the method by which poetry teaches is far removed from the scientific. A long didactic poem in general demonstrates itself very soon to be but prose; yet if the experiment be not extended too far, there is no reason why criticism in verse should not be as sagacious as it may be made poignant and pithy. Hartley Coleridge's union of exact thought with a brilliant wit, qualified him admirably for the task; and many a critical essay may be found condensed in his · Sketches of English Poets.' They consist of lines written in blank leaves of his copy of Anderson's British Poets.' Unfortunately the volume containing his sketch of Pope has been lost; and still more unluckily, not a few of those which remain are comments on certain magnates of their day, with whom this day will have no concern, though a poetical Aristotle were to illustrate them. Among the most felicitous of these descriptions are the sketches of Chaucer, Shakspeare, Daniel, Dryden, and Donne. The last may serve as a specimen:—
• Brief was the reign of pure poetic truth. .
A race of thinkers next, with rhymes uncouth,
Of stubborn thoughts a garland thought to twine; .
(Vol. ii. p. 321.) Many of the best poems in these volumes indicate, in a striking manner, that peculiar temperament of which it has been remarked that a humorous sadness, and a humorous 'mirth, are but its opposite poles. Habits of seclusion, concurring with a pliant imagination, a nervous constitution, and a leisure which yet could never be idle, had developed in their author nearly all the humours' which belong to, and sometimes overlay, the poetical character. They are among the qualities which flavour his poetry most richly, whether the predominating mood be pensive or joyous, fitful or grave, that of an anxious foresight, or a half-sportive pathos. The tenderer moods have left behind the choicest fruits. Among them are to be found many love-poems, which, if not coloured with the deeper and darker hues of passion, have yet detained the feeting lights of a most affectionate fancy. Those lights might sometimes be called lunar gleams; but they are the moonlight of a warm climate. To this class we would refer the stanzas, • To Somebody,' the sonnets beginning "I loved thee once,' Is • love a fancy or a feeling ?'. Inania Munera,' I saw thee in the beauty of thy spring,' &c. &c.
Another and a larger class in this collection may be described as philosophical poetry. Its originality and force are well set forth by a diction which, at all times manly and correct, could be exquisite when it pleased, and yet could, on occasions, drop upon the plainness of a child's speech. His later poetry belongs very frequently to this species; nor can we sufficiently regret that the specimens presented to us had not always the benefit of the author's corrections. How much poetry, especially that of a high intellectual order, gains from the author's last corrections we need hardly observe: polished steel does not differ more from the rough metal than the last copy of a poem frequently differs from the first. Hartley Coleridge's works were frequently both conceived and struck off with extraordinary rapidity-a circumstance owing as well to an acquired tact as to that spontaneity which characterised his genius: but the best of them were also elaborated with all needful care, a care, perhaps, most felt by the reader when least seen. The meditative poetry of the last half century, if not its best, is probably that which best expresses the spirit of the age. Among its highest efforts