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"Johnson, interrogating this critic," that is, Samuel Johnson interrogating Joseph Warton, inquired, "If Pope BE NOT A POET, where is POETRY to be found?" Reader, mark the logical con
"To circumscribe poetry by a definition will only show the narrowness of the definer." "If Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found?" Now, suppose Dr. Warton had said, "the song of the lark is not the most excellent; for, melodious as it is, it yields in variety, and compass, and richness, to the song of the nightingale!" would any one, of common sense, think it an answer, to be told, that "if the LARK be not a singing bird, where is a singing bird to be found," when its song was admitted to be only inferior to that of the nightingale ?
Such is the Doctor's logic! just as decisive of the point at issue, and just as much to the purpose!
"Aye! but such a definer," adds the critic, " arose in the disciple of Warton, the Rev. W. L. Bowles, who has distinguished himself in this IDLE controversy." Now, such a definer did not arise in W. L. B. He was not so absurd as to attempt "circumscribing" poetry, to ONE species, and to that ONE SPECIES ALONE! He never thought, and never implied he thought, that Pope was not a poet, or that any definition would exclude him from a most high order; but, when vague claims were made, as they now are, respecting his absolute supremacy in the art-not his line of art-the Rev. W. L. Bowles thought, and does think, with his master, not that Pope was not a poet, a poet the most finished and most excellent in his order, but that his order was not the highest in poetry.
I must here also observe, that I did not enter into this "idle controversy" voluntarily, but was forced into it, in the first place, by Mr. Campbell's totally misrepresenting my statements.
I proceed to consider the other authority which this critic advances, namely, that of Mr. Campbell, for whose opinions on any subject, none has greater respect than myself. The sentence in which the authority of his name is produced is this:
"Mr. Bowles opens his observations on the poetic character of Pope, with two regular propositions: that IMAGES drawn from what is SUBLIME or BEAUTIFUL in Nature are MORE poetical, (PER SE, in the original, that is, ABSTRACTEDLY) than images drawn from art, and that passions are more adapted to poetry than ARTIFICIAL manners."
This is my proposition, which I think unanswerable, and I am obliged to the writer for being so far fair, in this one instance, as not to leave out the latter part of the sentence. This is my position, and I think it unanswered and unanswerable.
For the sake of clearness, I shall restate the grounds of my opinions.
"All images drawn from what is BEAUTIFUL OF SUBLIME in the WORKS of NATURE, are more beautiful and sublime than any images drawn from art,' and they are therefore, PER SE, (abstractedly) more poetical! In like manner, those PASSIONS of the human heart, which belong to NATURE in general, are per se' more adapted to the higher species of poetry than those derived from INCIDENTAL and transient manners!"
I have not Mr. Campbell's Specimens at hand, and as I am now answering the critic in the Quarterly Review who brings the passage against me, I must take the words before me.
"Mr. Campbell judges, that the exquisite description of artificial objects and manners is NOT LESS-(than what? not LESS POETICAL than exquisite descriptions of nature! No such thing;) -EXQUISITE DESCRIPTIONS of artificial objects are not less CHARACTERISTIC of GENIUS than the description of simple physical appearances!!"
In the first place, Campbell never knew I had spoken of " passions," as the most essential part of the higher order of poetry: he took his opinions at second-hand, from the Edinburgh Review. The critic here confines himself to the first part of my proposition. Instead of answering even this part, he says, the "exquisite description" of works of art is not less characteristic of genius than descriptions of simple PHYSICAL APPEARANCES ! Doubtless;
but one half, and that the most essential, of my proposition, is entirely omitted, and the other half mistaken. Why all this veering in the critic of the Quarterly? Why not take the plain words of the proposition, and answer "" negatur ?"
Without talking of " exquisite description" of arts, as " characteristic of genius," will any one deny, that " images, drawn from what is SUBLIME or BEAUTIFUL in the WORKS of NATURE, are MORE beautiful and sublime than any images drawn from art, and therefore, per se, abstractedly, MORE POETICAL?" Will this critic deny this? Then, why confound the proposition, by talking of "characteristics of genius?"
I used the words per se, designedly, to show that, let works of art be as sublime or beautiful as they might, images drawn from what is SUBLIME or BEAUTIFUL in NATURE, that is, from the great and beautiful works of the Almighty, are MORE so, and therefore more poetical.
What would be the most exquisite description of Mr. Campbell's ship, abstractedly, as a poetical object, in comparison
with the description of the same ship, in conjunction with the elements of nature? This I have shown; nor have I said any thing as to the point whether the "exquisite description" of this object or of that, is "most characteristic of genius!". I spoke of the invariable principles of poetry. An "exquisite" painting on a snuff-box may be, for aught I have said to the contrary, as characteristic of genius, so far as exquisite skill goes, in that line; but the most exquisite skill in that line cannot make a painter so eminent in all that relates to the higher orders of his art, as the cartoons conceived by the genius, and EXECUTED by the hand of a Raphael!
1 turn from Dr. Johnson and Mr. Campbell to my critic. I will show more fairness to him than he has shown to me, by transcribing, word for word, not "splitting sentences," the whole luminous passage in which he displays so triumphantly his consummate analytical powers of philosophy and criticism. Let us put on our spectacles.
"It is clear to us that a theory, which frequently admitting every thing the votary of Pope could desire, to substantiate the high ge"nius of his master, yet terminates in excluding the poet from the highest order of poets,' must involve some fallacy; and this we presume we have discovered in the absurd attempt to raise a cri"terion of poetical talents.' Such an artificial test is repugnant to "the man of taste who can take enlarged views, and to the experience of the true critic. In the contrast of human tempers and "habits, in the changes of circumstances in society, and the consequent mutations of tastes, the objects of poetry may be different "in different periods; pre-eminent genius obtains its purpose by its adaptation to this eternal variety; and on this principle, if we "would justly appreciate the creative faculty, we cannot see why Pope should not class, at least in file, with Dante, or Milton. It "is probable that Pope could not have produced an 'Inferno,' or a Paradise Lost,' for his invention was elsewhere: but it is equally probable that Dante and Milton, with their cast of mind, "could not have so exquisitely touched the refined gaiety of the Rape of the Lock.'
"It has frequently been attempted to raise up such arbitrary "standards and such narrowing theories of art; and these crite"rions' and 'invariable principles' have usually been drawn from "the habitual practices and individual tastes of the framers; they "are a sort of concealed egotism, a stratagem of self-love. When "Mr. Bowles informs us that one of the essential qualities of a poet is to have an eye attentive to and familiar with,' (for so "he strengthens his canons of criticism) every external appearance "of nature, every change of season, every variation of light and "shade, every rock, every tree, every leaf, every diversity of hue,
"&c.;' we all know who the poet is that Mr. Bowles so fondly de"scribes.' 'Here, Pope,' he adds, 'from infirmities and from phy"sical causes was particularly deficient.' In artificial life, he per"fectly succeeded;' how minute in his description when he describes "what he is master of! for instance, the game of ombre in the Rape of the Lock.-If he had been gifted with the same powers "of observing outward nature, I have no doubt he would have "exhibited as much accuracy in describing the appropriate beauties "of the forest where he lived, as he was able to describe in a mauner so novel and with colors so vivid a game of cards.' It happened, however, that Pope preferred in-door to out-door nature; "but did this require inferior skill or less of the creative faculty than "Mr. Bowles's Nature? In Pope's artificial life we discover a great deal of nature; and in Mr. Bowles's nature, or poetry, we "find much that is artificial. On this absurd principle of definition "and criterion, Mr. Wordsworth, who is often by genius so true a
poet, is by his theory so mistaken a one. Darwin too ascertained "that the invariable principle of poetry,' or, in his own words, "the essence of poetry, was picture.' This was a convenient principle for one whose solitary talent lay in the minute pencillings "of his descriptions; and the idea was instantly adopted as being so consonant to nature, and to Alderman Boydell, that our authorpainters now asserted that if the excellence of a poem consisted "in forming a picture, the more perfect poetry would be painting "itself:-in consequence of this invariable principle of poetry,' "Mr. Shee, in his brilliant Rhymes on Art' declared that the "narrative of an action is not comparable to the action itself before the eyes,' and Barry ardently exclaimed, that painting is poetry realised!' To detract from what itself is excellent, by parallels with another species of excellence, or by trying it by some arbitrary criterion, will ever terminate, as here, in false cri"ticism and absurd depreciation."-Quarterly Review.
I beg the reader attentively to peruse this passage, which is so luminous, in comparison of my "mystic dreams," and which exhibits such powers of logical and accurate discrimination. I might say, as Chillingworth did, when he heard that Knox, the Jesuit, was engaged in controversy against him,
Si Pergama dextra
Defendi possent, etiam hac defensa videbo !
Having let my lucid annotator speak for himself, I proceed to set before the reader the whole of my positions, which he has garbled so dishonorably.
I had in view only descriptive poets, and of these, particularly, Thomson and Cowper! so that there was no "concealed egotism" in the matter.
"I presume it will readily be granted that all images drawn "from what is beautiful or sublime in the works of nature, are MORE BEAUTIFUL and SUBLIME than any images drawn from art,' and that they are therefore, per se, MORE poetical. In like "manner, those passions of the human heart, which belong to nature "in general, are, per se, more adapted to the HIGHER SPECIES of 66 POETRY, than those which are derived from incidental and tran"sient manners. A description of a forest is more poetical than a description of a cultivated garden; and the PASSIONS which are "pourtrayed in the epistle of an Eloisa, render such a poem more poetical, (whatever might be the difference of merit in point of "execution) intrinsically more poetical than a poem founded on the "characters, incidents, and modes of artificial life; for instance, the "Rape of the Lock. If this be admitted, the rule by which we "would estimate Pope's general poetical character would be ob"vious. Let me not, however, be considered as thinking that the subject alone constitutes poetical excellency: the execution is to "be taken into consideration at the same time; for, with Lord Hervey, we might fall asleep over the Creation' of Blackmore, "but be alive to the touches of animated satire in Boileau. The "subject' and the execution' (of that subject) therefore, are "equally to be considered; the one respecting the poetry, the other "the art and powers of the poet. The poetical subject, and the art "and talents of the poet, should always be kept in mind; and I imagine it is the want of observing this rule that so much has "been said, and so little understood, of the real ground of Pope's "character as a poet,"
The second proposition, that is, "passions," &c. follow the first, which I have called "consecutive," because it follows, and does not go before! and I used the word " illustration," because I thought it best, (lest it should be misunderstood) to show the distinction to be kept in view between " subject and execution," by Blackmore's epic and Boileau's satire; and this I called the illustration. And now, let us turn our attention to the "illustration" which this writer throws on the subject! to whom "consecutive," "illustration," "subject," and "execution," are expressions" so mysterious."
And first, I would ask any one, who compares my general passage with that in the Quarterly, to say, bona fide, which he thinks the most obscure the most like a "Muggletonian dream?" Any one, in half a moment, could perceive that, in speaking of the "execution" of a poem, I spoke figuratively, having taken the expressions “subject" and "execution" metaphorically, from the art of painting.
It will be observed I have spoken of the skill and talents of the poet, but only as far as regards "execution."