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RIGHT HON. LORD BYRON.
Your « Letter on the Rev. W. L. Bowles's Strictures" is not the least poetical of your work. The impassioned vindication of the poesy with which genius can surround all works in which the all-interesting mind of man can be employed, does no less honor to your feelings as a man, than to your taste as a poet. But disputants ever caricature the faults and burlesque the beauties of their antagonists, at the same time that they shade the defects and emblazon the merits of their friends. Your Lordship's chivalrous and enthusiastic zeal for Pope's character has led you to mistake principles and to misrepresent conduct. Your generosity engaged you to become the advocate of Pope, and your ardor in the cause of your client suggested what he required, not what truth and reason warranted. With the fervor of a poet too, you persuaded yourself that forcible statement and clear illustration were proofs of undoubted truth and unequivocal justice. Your defence of Pope's moral character I admit to be as just as it is manly. Your picture of English cant possesses a moral truth and grandeur that shrivels up at once every fool's face that looks upon it. You depart from truth, and nature, and poetry, when you represent Gray's Odes as encumbrances on the glory of his Elegy, and all your subsequent criticism is perverse and unjust. My reasons I shall assign with all the freedom, which, as a poet and as a critic, you invite.
Were I to depreciate the Elegy, I should be guilty of the offence, which I'censure. Your Lordship justly denounces the perverse, pedantry of admiring poetry according to its classification, and yet in the same page you prefer the Elegy to the Odes. Why? only to prepare for a vigorous defence of the “ Elegy on an unfortunate Lady," or the “ Essay on Man.” I venture to say in the name of all disinterested lovers of poetry, that the sublime, impassioned, high-finished poetry, of the “ Progress of Poesy," is as far superior to the “ Elegy,” as the “ Pleasures of Hope,” is superior to 6 Blair's Sermons." Lord Byron, when he is not making a case for the “ Essay on Man,” would be the best of judges on the subject. I abstain from quoting from an ode so rapturous and so impressed on every poetical mind; but when you, my Lord, even in the character of an advocate for Pope, called the Elegy " the corner-stone of Gray's glory," did you recollect the ode on Eton College ?
“ The stings of falsehood those shall try,
Amid severest woe.” Surely the enamored enthusiast of ethical poetry cannot place lines like these below the “ Elegy.” But the bold and bullying paradox which insensibly led your Lordship to calumniate Virgil, Milton, Cowper, and Poetry, I must transcribe : « In my mind, the highest of all poetry is ethical poetry, as the highest of all earthly objects must be moral truth.”_" In my mind, the ethical is the highest of all poetry, because it does that in verse, which the greatest of men have wished to accomplish in prose.' W. L. Bowles must envy the talent which such flings indicate. If, in defence of his creed, he can ever have occasion to invoke ingenuity to supply the place of truth, and assertion to appear equivalent to reason, he may find a model of high authority. What is moral truth, my Lord ? Suppose me not petulantly to ask the question, but really consider how various and prosaic the theories upon that subject are, and allow that with poetry they are but slightly connected. A version of the decalogue in metre is but ordinary poetry. You have confidently appealed to Jesus Christ and to Socrates as standards in prose; but surely your Lordship is aware that they have left no writings, poetical or prosaic. “ He that drives fat oxen must himself be fat:" Architecture must be the highest of all arts, as the highest of all artificial objects are church-spires. There have been histories of England in verse, but I believe they are superseded by Hume's prose. The finest execution by Pope of
the civil wars of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, would never equal the prose of Tacitus.
The sublimity, poetry, and imposing awfulness of moral excel. lence, every susceptible and honest mind will admit and feel ; but where, in the writings of Pope, am I to find the living image of this excellence'? Nestor is a good old man, Evander is exquisitely simple and affectionate, Albert gives the authority of age to the warmest feelings of the youthful bosom, and the soul is destitute of feeling that sympathizes not in the wild despair of Outalissi. In the writings of Pope I look in vain for the genuine operation of feeling, for the honest movements of the heart,- for the real voice of nature, -- for the true language of passion. All these appear in Pope like the image of the snow-clad trees in the icy lake. I desire not to depreciate Pope; I read him, repeat him, and value him. The proverbs, aphorisms, and superficial remarks of life, were never more elegantly rendered in verse. It is only your Lordship, by carrying him to a height which he is quite unable to bear, that can occasion his sinking below his just and appropriate level. « Ethical poetry requires more mind, more wisdom, more power, than all the forests that ever were walked, and all the epics that ever were founded upon fields of battle.” Lucan founded his poetry on battles, and hence he offered his own mother as a ransom for his life; Epicharis, having more mind, more wisdom, more power, chose to strangle herself rather than betray person's unconnected with her and almost unknown to her. Will your Lordship say that she was capable of writing better ethical poetry? But your Lordship means the power, wisdom, and mind, for writing elegant rhymes on ethical rules. If so, I have only to say that your Lordship's taste is sin. gular. ' I have no doubt at all that the ethical persons who walk, or are carried, along the streets of London, derive more comfort, ease, and ethical accommodation, from coarse and vulgar paviors, than from the admired and celebrated 'architects of St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey; and hence your Lordship may assert, that the former have more mind, more wisdom, and more power; but, alas ! the world will not believe you, my Lord. I am feelingly alive to the charms of verse in matters which it may be convenient to commit to memory.
“ Here then we rest : 'the universal cause
U, us, and rus, are formed from um.
Ns and dus, dum, do, and di." This is ethical poetry, the highest of all poetry, because it does that in verse which the greatest of men have wished to accomplish in prose.
You hurry yourself, my Lord, into a very seasonable but not a very classical fury, in order to pronounce the Georgics a finer poem than the Éneid. The same doctrine is most religiously inculcated in the « Lime-street sermons,” but begging your Lordship's pardon, and also that of the Lime-street sermon-makers, the world will ever think the Eneid the finer poem.
« Indulge ordinibus : nec secius'omnis in unguem
Arboribus positis secto via limite quadret.” May I translate the first two words in these your favorite lines ? “ Pray permit the privileged orders to have their own way.” But even your Lordship's privileged judgment will not take Milton's comparative estimate of his Paradise Regained, or Cowper's comparative estimate of his translation of Homer; why then should you cite the idle tale of Virgil's preference of the Georgics as · authentic and decisive ? Let me honestly confess my suspicions that your Lordship never read any part of the Georgics, save the episodes, more than once, and that you dart at the refreshing poetry of the episodes as eagerly as the traveller in the sandy deserts of Arabia at the green islands of palm trees and bounding waters. The episodes in the Georgics are too splendid for any feeble epithets of praise ; but will your Lordship stake your credit as a critic that the tale of Eurydice is finer in its execution, or more affecting in its sentiments, than the glowing story of Nisus and Euryalus? It is not necessary for my purpose even to glance at the grossness of several passages in the Georgics. The desperate effort to place the Georgics above the Eneid—imponere Pelio Ossam -is a plain avowal of the relative rank of Pope. Most strange, however, is the flight of your Lordship from the Georgics to the line of your ethical versifier,
“ The proper study of mankind is man." Is man a clod, an ox, or an asp? But thus even the genius of Lord Byron founders in shallow water.
In the next paragraph we are assured that " imagination” and “ invention," are the two commonest of qualities. My Lord, this looks like bitter irony of Pope. Had your “ illustrious and unrivalled poet" no imagination or invention? The Irish peasant feels