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the harmony of numbers, excitable feelings, and a tolerably quick perception of analogies are among the ordinary endow ments of our common nature; and these are all the qualifications in his hearers which a poet ought to require. If he goes farther, and presupposes in them a considerable amount of learning, or a power of following metaphysical refinements and the nicest subtilties of thought and expression, he must not complain if the wearied listeners gradually lose patience and leave him alone. We have no regard for the common complaint, that a certain poet is unduly neglected, or his works censured without just cause, merely because the public will not embrace his theory, and look at them from his point of view. It is not the world's business to satisfy the poet's requisitions; it is his duty to conform to theirs. If he will address himself to tastes and opinions which are held only by a few, he must not grumble if those few compose the whole circle of his admirers. His province is to appeal chiefly to the imagination and the passions, and these are strongest where the reasoning powers are least cultivated; they exist in the highest vigor, and are manifested with the least restraint, in the very multitude whose verdict he is seeking to avoid or set aside.
We are not aiming at paradox, or endeavouring to sanction an appeal from the opinion of the judicious few to the arbitrary judgments of the mob. In all cases which depend on an induction from facts or a comparison of instances, or wherever the reasoning faculty is concerned, the opinion of the multitude, as such, is not worth a straw; we look not to the quantity, but to the quality, of the voices rendered in judgment. But a relish for the beauties of poetry is an intuitive perception, and is most likely to be true and just when expressed with the least study or hesitation. It does not admit of analysis, and if we must make an effort before it can be obtained, or must go back to argument in order to justify it, it is most probably perverted and wrong.
One of the latest stages in the decline of poetry is the formation of a number of distinct schools, and the multiplication of mannerisms: Even now, the establishment of what may be called the Wordsworthian school augurs no good for the future. It is a great triumph, indeed, for a poet to have formed the very taste by which his works are judged; but that taste is more likely to be correct which does not require to be formed at all, which needs no study, theorizing, or
laborious cultivation, but springs up spontaneously whenever the right chord is struck. A particular school is always animated and kept together by a spirit of exclusiveness; it will tolerate no excellence out of its own bounds. If Mr. Wordsworth and his disciples are right to the full extent of their theory, more than half of our English poets must come down from their pride of place, and be content to be ranked with the writers of prose. If the many feeble, tame, and creeping passages of the Excursion are not merely to be defended as breathing-places in a long poem, but to be held up as models for imitation, then the popular taste, which admires the awful sublimities of Milton, the exquisite finish of Goldsmith, or the magnificent lyrics of Campbell, is all wrong. Things so utterly dissimilar cannot be ranked together merely as different kinds of excellence; if the one is beauty, the other is deformity. The judgment of the multitude is never warped by communion with the bigoted partialities of these poetical sects; it is more catholic, and for the same reason more natural and true. The people have neither time nor inclination to be initiated into the mysteries of a fraternity; they will not study the new code of laws, but will adhere steadfastly to the ancient customs of the realm of poesy.
The conclusion of the whole matter is, that a neglected poet has no right to murmur; if he has failed to please, after a trial of reasonable length, the fault is his own. To impart pleasure, not to instruct, is the great object of poetry; if he has not succeeded in doing this, it is a sign that he has missed his vocation. Of course, we are now speaking of the reception of a poet's works, and not of the treatment which he has met in person. Milton, and many others, have had good cause to complain that they had fallen on evil days and evil tongues; but what they have lost in one capacity they were sure to gain in another. Justice is infallibly rendered in the long run to the poet, though it is often denied to the man.
Dr. Holmes will not object to our doctrine, if he judges only from his own experience. Though he has published very little, he is one of the most popular of American poets, and the corollary from our theorem is, that he deserves all his reputation. Some may object, that much of his popularity is to be ascribed to the exuberance of his wit, in which he easily surpasses all his contemporaries excepting Hood. To this we answer, that wit may justly be considered as one
of the brightest ornaments of poetry; and in his case, as well as in that of his English predecessor to whom we have just alluded, it is by no means unattended by the higher and more characteristic excellences of his profession. His fancy teems with bright and appropriate images, and these are woven into his plan usually with exquisite finish and grace. His artistic merits are very great; his versification is never slovenly, nor his diction meagre or coarse; and many of his shorter pieces are inwrought with so much fire and imagination as to rank among our best lyrics.
This is high praise, and in order to justify it, we should find it necessary to quote rather from the volume of his collected poems, which was published here some years since, and afterwards republished in England, than from the brief "rhymed lesson," quite local and occasional in character, which is now before us. But we must not make citations from a work which is in the hands of nearly all our readers, while the choicer portions of it are as familiar to them as the songs of their childhood. Urania a title which for some inexplicable reason he has chosen to annex to this later publication has some striking faults; but it has also characteristic passages enough to support our high estimate of the writer's powers. It is a mere medley of bright thoughts and laughing satire, with here and there a momentary expression of deep feeling, which betrays a spirit that may be touched to nobler issues. The poet glances about like a butterfly from one topic to another, hardly resting on any one long enough to obtain more than a sip of its honey. The versification is uniformly flowing and harmonious, and the lines are never bolstered out with feeble or unmeaning expressions. The following description of a Sabbath morning in the city, though it has so many local allusions that one who is not familiar with the streets and churches of Boston can see but in part its admirable adaptation to the scene, may still serve as a favorable specimen of the poem. We can quote only a portion of it.
"The air is hushed; the street is holy ground;
Hark! The sweet bells renew their welcome sound;
It tells the turret whence its voice is flung.
"The Chapel, last of sublunary things
That shocks our echoes with the name of King's,
Whose bell, just glistening from the font and forge,
"Child of the soil, whom fortune sends to range
pp. 12, 13.
These are vigorous and striking lines, which no living poet certainly need be ashamed to own. The deep and holy sentiment which pervades the latter portion of them may suffice to convince those of their error who have hitherto regarded Dr. Holmes only as a rhyming Momus. There are many felicities of expression in them which show great mastery of style, and perfect familiarity with the well of English undefiled. This, indeed, is one of the characteristic merits of our bard. His diction is uniformly terse, precise, and vigorous, never cheating the ear with sound that veils an ambiguity of meaning, nor violating by a hair's breadth the established usages of language. His words ring clear and shrill, like good coin tried on the counter. He has entire command of Anglo-Saxon phraseology, and the most familiar turns of speech, without ever sinking into baldness or vulgarity; and he often adapts colloquial expressions to his purpose with a felicity of setting which reminds one of Dean Swift. To illustrate and confirm this praise, we quote from the lighter and more satirical portion of the poem. There is much good sense, as well as pungent wit, in the following passage, and no one will deny its applicability to the race of whom it is spoken. "Be firm! one constant element in luck Is genuine, solid, old Teutonic pluck;
See yon tall shaft; it felt the earthquake's thrill,
"Stick to your aim; the mongrel's hold will slip,
"Yet in opinions look not always back;
Your wake is nothing, mind the coming track;
"Don't catch the fidgets; you have found your place
Fretful to change, and rabid to discuss,
Full of excitements, always in a fuss.
Think of the patriarchs; then compare as men
These lean-cheeked maniacs of the tongue and pen!