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or, as he, afterwards, much more roundly avers, " that it can supply nothing to the mind,” is the statement to which we decidedly object. not accountable for all the doggerel hymns, and despicable compositions, which are pawned upon the religious world. We take sacred, on the same footing with classic, Poetry. We view it in its best exhibitions. Now, analyze the Doctor's reasoning. He selects the optimism of sublimity for his proof; and tells us, with a tone of irreversible authority, “Omnipotence cannot be exalted, infinity cannot be amplified, perfection cannot be improved.” “Prodigious !” Who ever thought they could ? or that Poetry might be the means of accomplishing the Herculean task? And, pray, will Prose succeed more effectually in this Utopian enterprise? Omnipotence, indeed, cannot be exalted; but, our notions or conceptions of Omnipotence may.
Our apprehension of “the nature of the Supreme Being” admits of various degrees of clearness, and extent. Now, this must result from delineation and illustration; and may not Poetry conduce to this ? May not it's “tropes and figures” enlarge our comprehension and elevate our fancy, with reference to divine subjects? Because God is unchangeable, must our views
and notions of Him remain so ? Does the child receive no supplies to his infant mind from “Watts's Divine Songs ?” Does the devout Christian derive no mental acquisitions from sublime and beautiful Psalms ? Why did David and Isaiah write on sacred subjects, with such inimitable sweetness and rapture, if sacred Poetry were incapable of enlarging the comprehension and elevating the fancy?
If it be observed that the illustrations of sacred subjects, in the holy Scriptures, are so complete, that they can receive but little augmentation; we rejoice to concede the fact. But whence does it occur, but from the very identical circumstance, that the sublime and inimitable Poetry of the Prophets has left little to be illustrated? To assume, therefore, that sacred subjects are not adapted to poetical composition, is, precisely, begging the question. “ Than Hebrew Poetry, the human mind can conceive nothing more elevated, more beautiful, or more elegant; in which the almost ineffable sublimity of the subject is equalled by the energy of the language and the dignity of the style. And it is worthy of observation, that as some of these writings exceed, in antiquity, the fabulous ages of Greece; in sublimity, they are superior to the most
finished productions of that polished people.” That great ornament of polite literature, Bishop Lowth, observes also, “is it not probable that the first efforts of rude and unpolished verse would display itself in the praise of the Creator, and flow almost involuntarily from the enraptured mind? This, at least, is certain, that Poetry has been nurtured in those sacred places, where she seems to have been first raised into existence; and that her original occupation was in the temple and at the altar." Whether indeed, with “the eloquent Herder,” we clothe every Hebraic construction with poetic inspiration; or, with the learned Gesenius, reduce many exquisite passages to the appearance of prose; ; or, with our own accurate Prelate, take a kind of central path between the two; we are entirely constrained to acknowledge that the whole compass of elegant literature has nothing to place in competition with the Poetry of the Bible. The Poetry of Isaiah, in the opinion of Mr. Thomas Campbell, (and who is better qualified to judge on such a question ?) “forms the greatest tablet, both of awfully solemn, and of
* Rees's Cyclopedia. Art. Poetry.
joyfully beautiful, conceptions, ever exhibited in poetical prediction.”* We will beg also to add a testimony of Mr. Hazlitt, to whom ideas are slaves, and whose page is often like a slave-ship. “There are descriptions in the Book of Job more prodigal of imagery, more intense in passion, than any thing in Homer. They give a greater momentum to the imagination,” Now, review Dr. Johnson's rea, soning!
Were it needful to add another word, we should just remind the reader, that the same mode of reasoning would, with equal propriety, apply to natural subjects. We might declare, with a tone of equal magnificence, 'the rose cannot be sweetened; the sun cannot be brightened ; creation cannot be enlarged.' We hope enough has been said, to demonstrate the sophistry of Johnson's reasoning about sacred Poetry; and to exculpate us from the imputation of temerity in venturing to arraign such venerable authority.
One word more on the Poem. The object of the “Dunciad," was to satirise dulness; that of the “Bardiad” is to commemorate genius, and to
* Campbell's Lectures on Poetry.
stigmatise it's awful aberrations. That such a duty should be discharged in so imperfect a manner, will not be regretted, if abler critics should, by this attempt, be induced to present us with more efficient services. If the productions of Genius, Taste and Erudition deserve the immortality of praise; the propagators of calumny, sensuality, and scepticism, deserve that of reprobation and contempt. To find an apologist for the man who maligns such a Monarch as “George the Third,” and distributes, through Europe, such a work as “the Liberal,” ought, in a Christian country, to be impossible.
The notes contain elegant morceaux from the Poets whose works are criticised; but, the selection is only such as may tend to illustrate the observations that are made in the course of the Poem. Of any other, indeed, there would be no end.
Gorton, 1st. March, 1823.