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tempt, for unless he produces strains equal to those of the mighty bards of pious song, who have already enchanted the world, the probability is that he will sing in vain.
On the subject of Love, it is still more difficult for a modern poet to produce any thing new than on even that of Religion; for while it is a subject of much narrower range, it has been as frequently, as constantly, and as universally the theme of poetic inspiration. No wonder, therefore, that the “ Pleasures of Love,” by Stewart, was a failure, notwithstanding the fine poetical tone of many of its passages.
The other unsuccessful poems bearing the name of “ Pleasures,” merit no particular observation. They failed from the most common cause of poetical failures, the inability of their authors to impart to them the qualities that command success.
The poems included in this volume are, in fact, the only ones of the class that have as yet taken a permanent hold of the public mind. They were those alone, therefore, which the publisher, who was desirous of making a book entirely acceptable, felt warranted to lay before the reader. The established character of these poems giving assurance of a demand for them sufficient to authorize an ornamented edition, great care has been taken and expense incurred, in the mechanical execution and embellishment of the book, so as to render it suitable for the centre table as well as the study room, and to make it also an appropriate volume for presentation. .
To render the volume still more acceptable, memoirs of the authors, and dissertations on the poems, prepared expressly for this edition, are inserted, the value of which, it is trusted, will be appreciated by the public. These additions, evidently both useful and interesting, in conjunction with the mechanical elegance and the acknowledged poetical merit of the volume, the publisher flatters himself, will cause it to be hailed by all lovers of true poetry, as a welcome book, that will, in a tasteful and convenient form, furnish them with the means of intellectual enjoyment of the most refined and rational description that poetical literature can afford.
The poems here published are confessedly among the most popular in the language; and to say that they will, for generations to come, continue to be so, is no hazardous prediction; for the favour they have received is owing to no temporary or extraneous circumstance attending either their authorship or their publication. It springs from causes entirely inherent in themselves, and which will continue to operate, without diminution or decay, so long as the language in which they are written continues to be spoken, and the hearts and understandings of men remain susceptible of receiving impressions from the charms of beautiful poetry.
The subjects of these poems have been judiciously chosen. Imagination, Memory, Hope, Friendship, are all well adapted for the inspiration of poetical fervour and the suggestion of poetical sentiment. Into the feelings awakened by these subjects, every reader can enter. Nor were they already too much exhausted by having been the constant themes of all preceding poets. They were subjects that could yet furnish genias with new points of attraction in which to exhibit them; and the poets who so happ made them the themes of their song in the works here brought together, could elucidate their nature, and show forth their charms with freedom and boldness, unrestricted and unhampered by the fear of encroaching on the labours of others, or of presenting to the world anticipated views or images with which it was already familiar.
Akenside, who, as has been already observed, led the way into this beautiful field of poetical Pleasures, was more indebted to a previous writer for the leading topics of his work, than any of his successors. But it was to a prose writer. The excellent essays of Addison on Imagination, published in the Spectator, furnished the poet not only with the design of his work, but with many of its topics, so that it has been said, with only a partial regard to truth, that he has merely versified Addison's prose. There is a sufficiency of the poet's own creation in his noble production, to prove his capacity for original thinking. He has besides the important advantage over his successors, that, however much his subject, may have been preoccupied in prose, it was comparatively unknown to poetry. He has cultivated ground fresher and newer to the muses than any other of the poets of the “ Pleasures."
Rogers did not find the subject of Memory so unappropriated. His work was not only preceded by the beautiful and well known Ode of Mason to that faculty, but there were scattered throughout the poetry of the elder bards, a thousand allusions' to the joys of vanished years; and from time immemorial, the endearing recollections of youthful scenes and past pleasures had been standing subjects for sentiment and song.
Campbell and M.Henry found their respective subjects much in the same predicament. Cowper had forestalled both these poets even more strikingly than Mason had done Rogers. The bard of Hope, in particular, when he appeared with his immortal production, found the world in possession of an excellent poem on the same subject, by the author of the Task. The same eminent author had written on Friendship, not indeed so elaborately as on Hope, but yet in strains sufficiently pleasing and popular to render any attempt to invoke the muses on the same subject somewhat hazardous.
Still the subjects of Memory, Hope, and Friendship were far from being exhausted. They yet afforded ample scope for originality of thought and freshness of expression; and that their respective poets sufficiently availed themselves of this advantage, the numerous novel beauties of their productions, which the world has been neither slow in discovering, nor backward in acknowledging, bear abundant testimony.
An attempt to assign the superiority of merit to either of the four poems in this volume, would be illjudged, for each reader will be inclined to prefer that which conforms most to his own particular taste. As each poem, however, has distinct and peculiar characteristics, it will not be improper to point them out succinctly to the attention of the reader.
The Pleasures of Imagination is, beyond doubt, the most uniformly exalted in its topics and allusions, it takes the widest range in the management of its subject, and is the most avowedly philosophical work of the series. It is, at the same time, the most difficult to comprehend, being in many passages disagreeably obscure. Its composition probably required a greater exertion of reflective talent than any of the others. It abounds in profound analyses and deductions, which could not have been effected without great powers of ratiocination. There is in it, besides, sufficient indication of a fervid fancy and an inventive imagination, to mark the author a true poet. But whether these high attributes will, in the opinion of the majority of readers, atone for the absence of simplicity, ease, and perspicuity, and of every thing resembling those delightful homefelt passages to be found in each of the other poems, may be doubted. It may, however, be safely asserted that a respectable minority at least, will be disposed to regret the almost entire absence of the latter qualities, and to