Page images

2. e.,

inattentive to the properties of the existence acted upon,

have neglected the laws of its activities. When we know the characteristics and the laws of things we can become possessed of a prescience of their possible effects. Hence science is essential to prescience. Now prescience is the prime element in art, or productive effectiveness: a foresight of the end aimed at, and a pre-arrangement of the means by which it is to be brought about are prelimi. naries of art; and these depend upon science.

Licence signifies liberty within the limits of law; an allowable or apparent departure from the letter or specific requirements of the maxims or precepts which overrule activities, combined with a conformability to the spirit or principle of the fixed rule; or such permitted violations of the supreme laws of things as exigencies may justify, or at least show to be advisable in the circumstances. Licence is exceptional action for which leave is given, notwithstanding the existence of statute law to a contrary effect. It is a provision made to prevent the too rigid enforcement of established Jaw; a mode of giving a possible elasticity to a system felt and known to be, in general, best, and therefore most imperative. Law operates in every normal case, and claims submission in all ordinary circumstances. Licence is only rightly available when the true intent of the law has been obeyed to the utmost limit, and when the strict observance of the law will not subserve the main and chief purpose for which that law exists, which is the best possible effecting of right aims by proper agencies. Licence presupposes law, and admits its claim to obedient respect. The idea of licence is only possible as a correlate of law. Law is an originative and directing energy; licence is a practical expedient for attaining an end similar to that aimed at by the law, though by a means not included in, yet recognized by the law. Hence Pope says,

“ If, where the rules not far enough extend
(Since rules were made but to promote their end),
Some lucky licence answer to the full
The end proposed, that licence is a rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common track,
From vulgar bounds in brave disorder part,
And spatch a grace beyond the reach of art,
Which, without passing through the judgment, gains
The heart at once, and all its end attains."

It has, however, always the law as a parallel and a reference, and is only justified when the effect is superior, while tending to the same end, to that attainable by obedience to the law. Licence, therefore, in the very act of insubordination glorifies the law, and law generously condones the offence, and takes the well-intentioned scapegrace into favour. By the brilliant audacity of an otherwise reprehensible licence, Nelson gained victory at Copenhagen. Licence brought the New World within the ken of Columbus, and

revealed the secrets of the sky to Copernicus. The vital energy of moral courage led Luther to the law-breaking licence from which the glorious Reformation proceeded. The brief, storn, passionate speeches of Demosthenes are replete with instances of licence; 80 are the writings of Carlyle. Who would prefer the various energy of Sheridan to the vigorous originality of Chatham ? the smooth phrase of Stebbing to the rotund effectiveness of Macaulay ? the precision of Rogers to the lightning flashes of Keats ? or the orthodox metricism of Bowles to the inspiritment of Byron ? Froude uses licences on which Merivale dare not venture, and Grote will dare to utter speculations at which Mansel would stand aghast. Licence has its place in life as well as law, but never unless its aim be to effect the purposes of law more emphatically and completely than it could otherwise be accomplished. In any other case it is licentiousness, not licence—the former of which is not an inversion merely, but a perversion of the latter, for licence is the foster-child of law. Licence is only condoned, and it gets a bill of indemnification passed in its favour only, where an end is gained and an effect produced by its exercise which really harmonizes with the spirit of the law, although it violates its written letter. The poet who crowds his verses with quaintnesses and grotesquery, merely for the purpose of employing them as ornaments and attractions, has not yet learned the true uses of poetic speech. Licence, like treason, must justify itself or be self-condemned.

“ Treason never prospers! What's the reason ?

Why, when it prospers, 'tis no longer treason." So licence, when it is properly employed, ceases to be licence by showing itself to have been an inevitable necessity-if the required end was to be attained by available means. He who would aptly people the regions of imagination

“ With the quick creatures of immortal rhyme" must neither wilfully nor aimlessly-unless under sanction of the bighest necessity-mar their beauty, spot their loveliness, or lessen their perfectedness from any makeshift, trouble-saving intent of his own; but should summer to entire ripeness the life he means to bring within the charmed spaces of poetic being. The true poet is never among those of whom it can be said,

“Licence they mean when they cry 'Liberty!' Poetasters, in their straining after effect, patch and spangle their thoughts' dress with what they intend to be regarded as ornamental diction, and then we have such sensational imagery as this :

“ Like a wild lover who has found his love
Wortbless and foul, our friend, the sea, has left
His paramour the shore; naked she lies,

[ocr errors]

Ugly, and black, and bare. Hark, how he moans!
The pain is in his heart. Inconstant fool !
He will be up apon her breast to-morrow,
As eager as to-day.”

Life Drama," A. Smith. That is bombasting out a braggart blank verse ; and the result is hideously unseemly. But the same writer's higher instincts led him to adopt more appropriate ideas and more expressive terms on other occasions, and enabled him to redeem that furioso passage by the production of this genuine example of poetic diction :

“ I'll cleave the world as a swimmer cleaves the sea,
Breaking the sleek green billows into froth,
With tilting full-blown chest; and scattering,
With scornful breath, the kissing, flattering foam
That leaps and dallies with his dipping lip."

Life Drama," A. Smith. How splendidly the alliteration in the last line is balanced! It is delightfully managed, too, in an earlier passage of the same composition, viz., in the early lines in which this simile occurs :

“As Hero gave her trembling sighs to find

Delicious death on wet Leander's lip." The choice of the diction of poetry is in general decided by a delicate process of intellectual chemistry, in which the thoughts assimilate from the poet's vocabulary the most fitting attainable words. For the exercise of this fine exquisiteness of selection no rules can be given, but the fact of its employment may be pointed out; its effectiveness may be illustrated, and some cautions may be given regarding the abuses to which poetic diction is liable. Some knowledge of the principles upon which the choice of words is made may be acquired, and hence there will arise the possibility of guarding the operations of this instinct by the activity of the intellect. As all the instincts of man require to be educated, so also does this : the glory of man is to have all his life governed by his intellect, and all its powers exercised in accordance with the laws which are found by investigation to be best adapted to produce the best results. As a specimen of the refinement of choice to which poets attain, we may instance the two following passages, in which the words crouch and couch might have been interchanged with little 1088 of intelligibility; but, as will be seen at once, with a very great loss of appropriateness of emotional and imaginative suggestiveness, which are among the finer essences of poetry :Ton. Why do I creep thus stealthily along,

With thief-like steps ? Am I not armed by heaven
To execute its mandate on a king
Whom it bath doomed? Can hell have paltered with mo?
Or some foul passion, crouching in my soul,
Started in poble form to lare me on?" Talfourd', " Ton," iv., 1.

[ocr errors]

“As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie

Couched on the bold top of an eminence;
Wonder to all who do the same espy,
By what means it could hither come, and whence;
So that it seems a thing endued with sense:
Like a sea-beast crawled forth, that on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself.”

Wordsworth's Excursion." Thought is, of course, the life-containing germ of all poetry; in it the selective chemistry of choice resides; it gathers into itself all the elements of healthy growth, and fashions all, with a mysterious -occultness, into vital reproduction and beauty.

" As the store
Of rainbow colour, which the seed conceals,
Sheds out its tints from its dim treasury

To flush and circle in the flower ;" so does the living thought of the poet embody its grace, loveliness, and life, in the choice verse he gives us. Like the violet's beauty and perfume, the bright cosummate excellence of poetry is the result of growth-growth governed and stimulated, not simulated, by art, which is the prudent effort of the wise to bring about, in conformity with the laws of nature, the rarest perfection of which things are susceptible.

The supreme law of speech is, that it be an intelligible expression of thought in the fewest and plainest possible words. The law of parsimony holds here, as everywhere, unless another law interferes. Eloquence adds to the requirement of intelligibility the power of effecting some purpose by affecting the emotions. Poetry demands, besides, the creation of a new delight by the aid of the imagination. All literature, however, seeks something beyond the mere intelligibility of speech. It has some purpose in its being, some end to be attained in view. The mere incarnation of thought as seldom satisfies the mind of man as the mere realization of a likeness satisfies a sculptor. Every one knows that it is advantageous to gain entrance into the mind by the beautiful gate; that gladlier welcome waits upon fair-spoken than on ill-expressed thought; that readiness, and excellence, and eloquence of utterance give attractiveness to ideas and opinions which they would not have unless they were spoken " trippingly on the tongue.” Hence the literary exposition of thought has always some characteristics of eloquence and poetry, and superadds to mere intelligibility some pleasantness of form or diction. It thus overleaps the law. of parsimony in its restricted sense, though, in reality, all rhetorical artifice whatever founds and bases itself upon this pressing requirement of human existence; for they are all intended to lessen the painfulness either of effort or of endurance,—of active exertion of mind to comprehend, or of passive sufferance of undelightful statement, to which it may be our duty to listen. In the former case the law of parsimony demands that such means may be used as. shall most effectively and most briefly communicate a thought in its entire fulness and power. In the latter case it requires that all due care be taken in the presentation of the thoughts that no more stress of mind should be called for tban is positively and peremptorily required, and that as much orderliness and attractiveness be given to them as possible. But as the greater part of human speech, especially in its written forms, aims at some end over and above the attainment of intelligibility, such modes of moving men’s minds towards the desired ends must be inworked with the expressions employed. This requires in general so to be done that the emotions may be quickened and the will affected in the very act of expressing a thought. Such speech is not presentative only, but also emotive and promotive; is, in fact, so far forth poetic. The study of poetic diction, then, is not one appropriate only to would-be poets or critical readers of verse, but is indeed a duty incumbent on all who seek to use words wisely and well, who desire to employ right and true speech in a worthy and useful manner, and so as to effect its nobler purposes.

Poetry,” according to the definition of the author of "The Christian Year," " is the indirect expression in words—most appropriately in metrical words—of some overpowering emotion, or ruling taste or feeling, the direct indulgence of which is somehow repressed.” In this definition, however imperfect it may be otherwise, one element of poetic composition has been brought into prominence which has formerly been neglected in considering the subject, viz., the indirectness of poetical expressions, or, as we would rather choose to phrase it, the double-flowering nature of the language of the poet. Take, for instance, the following passage . from the “Life Drama" of Alexander Smith:

“Lightning, like a wild bright beast,
Leaps from its thunder-lair."

In it, the word “leaps ” flashes into the intellect the conception of outstarting, swiftness ; but at the same time it touches the emotions to the quick by putting the quiver and energy of life into the fiery leven. Hence it invigorates the verse, and gives a twofold impulseto the mind. It is thus an express economy of phrase ; it exerts a double force at a single stroke. It pleases, surprises, and informs. It animates external nature, and brings its energies by suggestion nearer to our own by the sense of likeness it covertly involves.

"These subtle-shining secrecies” of poetry, in which we finds conveyed at once a sensible impression and an imaginative decipher-. ment of the hidden

“ Affinities
In objects where no brotherbood oxists
To passive minds,"

« PreviousContinue »