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reality, over the rough edge of present pain,-it will not be difficult to explain why it should be so attractive in the copies and fictions of poetry. There, as in real life, the great demand is for emotion; while the pain with which it may be attended, can scarcely, by any possibility, exceed the limits of endurance. The recollection, that it is but a copy and a fiction, is quite sufficient to keep it down to a moderate temperature, and to make il welcome as the sign or the harbinger of that agitation of which the soul is avaricious. It is not then, from any peculiar quality in painful emotions that they become capable of affording the delight which altends them in tragic or pathetic poetry,—but merely from the circumstance of their being more intense and powerful than any other emotions of which the mind is susceptible. If it was the constitution of our nature to feel joy as keenly, or to sympathise with it as heartily as we do with sorrow, we have no doubt that no other sensation would ever be intentionally excited by the artists that minister to delight. But the fact is, that the pleasures of which we are capable are slight and feeble, compared with the pains that we may endure ; and that, feeble as they are, the sympathy which they excite falls much more short of the original emotion. When the object, therefore, is to obtain sensation, then can be no doubt to which of the fountains we shall repair; and if there be but few pains in real life which are not, in some measure, endeared to us by the emotions with which they are attended, we may be pretty sure, that the more distress we introduce into poetry, the more we shall rivet the attention and attract the admiration of the reader.
There is but one exception to this rule,-and it brings us back from the apology of Mr. Crabbe, to his condemnation. Every form of distress, whether it proceed from passion or from fortune, and whether it fall upon vice or virtue, adds to the interest and the charm of poetry-except only that which is connected with ideas of disgust,—the least taint of which disenchants the whole scene, and puts an end both to delight and sympathy. But what is it, it may be asked, that is the proper object of disgust? and what is the precise description of things which we think Mr. Crabbe so inexcusable for admitling ? It is not easy to define a term al once so simple and so significant; but it may not be without its use to indicate, in a general way, our conception of its force and comprehension.
It is needless, we suppose, to explain what are the objects of disgust in physical or external existences. These are sufficiently plain and unequivocal; and it is universally admitted, that all mention of them must be carefully excluded from every poetical description. With regard, again, to human character, action, and feeling, we should be inclined to term every thing disgusting, which represented misery, without making any appeal to our love or our admiration. If the suffering person be amiable, the delightful feeling of love and affection tempers the pain which the contemplation of suffering has a tendency to excite, and enhances it into the stronger, and therefore more attractive, sensation of pity. If there be great power or energy, however, united to guilt or wretchedness, the mixture of admiration exalts the emotion into something that is sublime and pleasing. Even in cases of mean and atrocious guilt, our sympathy with the victims upon whom it is practised, and our active indignation and desire of vengeance, reconcile us to the humiliating display, and make a compound that, upon the whole, is productive of pleasure.
The only sufferers, then, upon whom we cannot bear to look, are those
that excile pain by their wretchedness, while they are too depraved to be the objects of affection, and too weak and insignificant to be the causes of misery to others, or, consequently, of indignation to the spectators. Such are the depraved, abject, diseased, and neglected poor,-creatures in whom every thing amiable or respectable has been extinguished by sordid passions or brutal debauchery,—who have no means of doing the mischief of which they are capable, -whom every one despises, and no one can either love or fear. On the characters, the miseries, and the vices of such beings, we look with disgust merely : and, though it may perhaps serve some moral purpose, occasionally to set before us this humiliating spectacle of human nature sunk lo utter worthlessness and insignificance, it is altogether in vain to think of exciting either pity or horror by the truest and most forcible representations of their sufferings or of their enormilies. They have no hold upon any of the feelings that lead us to take an interest in our fellowcreatures ;-we turn away from them, therefore, with loathing and dispassionate aversion ;-we feel our imaginations polluted by the intrusion of any images connected with them; and are offended and disgusted when we are forced to look closely upon those festering heaps of moral filth and corruplion. It is with concerp we add, that we know no writer who has' sinned so deeply in this respect as Mr. Crabbe,—who has so often presented us with spectacles which it is purely painful and degrading to contemplate, and bestowed such powers of conception and expression in giving us distinct ideas of what we must abhor to remember. If Mr. Crabbe had been a person of ordinary talents, we might have accounted for his error, in some degree, by supposing that his frequent success in treating of subjects wbich had been usually rejected by other poets, had at length led him to disregard altogether the common impressions of mankind as to what was allowable and what inadmissible in poetry, and to reckon the unalterable laws by which pature has regulated our sympathies, among the prejudices by which they were shackled and impaired. It is difficult
, however, to conceive how a writer of his quick and exact observation should have failed to perceive, that there is not a single instance of a serious interest being excited by an object of disgust; and that Shakspeare himself, who has ventured every thing, has never ventured to shock our feelings with the crimes or the sufferings of beings absolutely without power or principle. Independent of universal practice, too, it is still more difficult to conceive how he should have overlooked the reason on which this practice is founded; for though it be generally true, that poetical representations of suffering and of guilt produce emotion, and consequently delight, yet it certainly did not require the penetration of Mr. Crabbe to discover, that there is a degree of depravily which counteracts our sympathy with suffering, and a degree of insignificance which extinguishes our interest in guilt.
• There is an exceedingly able essay on the character of Crabbe's poetry in vol. iv. p. 282. of the Quarterly Revjew. The poetical criticisms in that journal are, with a few exceptions, written with a praiseworthy impartiality; and not a few may fairly compete, in point of style and a profound knowledge of the subject, with some of the most brilliant dissertations of its distinguished rival. See Appendix, No II.
PARALLEL BETWEEN ROUSSEAU AND LORD BYRON. Scepticism of Byron's poetry.-Strictures on the fourth Canto of Childe Harold. +
There are two writers, in modern literature, whose extraordinary power over the minds of men, it may be truly said, has existed less in their works than in themselves, -Rousseau and Lord Byron. They have other points of resemblance. Both are distinguished by the most ardent and vivid delineations of intense conception, and by an intense sensibility of passion, rather than of affection. Both, too, by this double power, have held a dominion over the sympathy of their readers, far beyond the range of those ordinary feelings which are usually excited by the mere efforts of genius. The impression of this interest still accompanies the perusal of their writings : but there is another interest of more lasting, and far stronger power, which the one has possessed, and the other now possesses, which lies in the continual embodying of the individual character, it might almost be said, of the very person, of the writer. When we speak or think of Rousseau or Byron, we are not conscious of speaking or thinking of an author. We have a vague but impassioned remembrance of men of surpassing genius, eloquence, and power,-of prodigious capacity both of misery and happiness. We feel as if we had transiently met such beings in real life, or had known them in the dim and dark communion of a dream. Each of their works presents, in succession, a fresh idea of themselves; and, while the productions of other great men stand out from them, like something they have created; theirs, on the contrary, are images, pictures, busts of their living selves,-clothed, no doubt, at different times in different drapery, and prominent from a different background,—but uniformly impressed with the same form, and mien, and lineaments, and not to be mistaken for the representations of any other of the children of men.
But this view of the subject, though aniversally felt to be a true one, requires perhaps a little explanation. The personal character of which we have spoken, it should be understood, is not altogether, that on which the seal of life has been set,-and to which, therefore, moral approval or condemnation is necessarily annexed, as to the language or conduct of actual existence. It is the character, so to speak, which is prior to conduct, and yet open to good and to ill,--the constitution of the being, in body and in soul. Each of those illustrious writers has, in this light, filled his works with expressions of his own character,-has unveiled to the world the secrets of his own being—the mysteries of the framing of man. They have gone down into those depths which every man may sound for himself, though not for another; and they have made disclosures to the world of what they beheld and knew there-disclosures that have commanded and enforced a profound and universal sympathy, by proving that all mankind, the troubled and the untroubled, the lofty and the low, the strongest and the frailest, are linked together by the bonds of a common but inscrutable nature.
Thus, each of these wayward and richly-gifted spirits has made himself the object of profound interest to the world, and that, loo, during periods of society when ample food was everywhere spread abroad for the meditations and passions of men. What love and desire,—what longing and passionate expectation hung upon the voice of Rousseau, the idol of his
+ Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Canto IV. By Lord Byron. - Vol. xxx, p. 87. June, 1818.
day!-That spell is broken. We now can regard his works in themselves, in great measure free from all the delusions and illusions that, like the glories of a bright and vapoury atmosphere, were for ever rising up and encircling the image of their wonderful creator. Still is the impression of his works vivid and strong. The charm which cannot pass away is there,-- life breathing in dead words,-the pulses of passion,--the thrilling of the frame, —the sweet pleasure stealing from senses louched with ecstasy into sounds which the tongue frames, and the lips utter with delight. All these still are there, the fresh beauty, the undimmed lustre—the immortal bloom and verdure and fragrance of life. These, light and vision-like as they seem, endure as in marble. But that which made the spirits of men, from one end of Europe to the other, turn to the name of Rousseau, -that idolising enthusiasm which we can now hardly conceive, was the illusion of one generation, and has not survived to another. And what was the spell of that illusion? Was it merely that bewitching strain of dreaming melancholy which lent to moral declamation the tenderness of romance; or that fiery impress of burning sensibility, which threw over abstract and subtle disquisitions all the colours of a lover's tale? These, undoubtedly-but not these alone. It was that continual impersonalion of himself in his writings, by which he was for ever kept brightly present before the eyes of men. There was in bim a strange and unsated desire of depicluring himself, throughout all the changes of his being. His wild temper only found ease in tracing out, in laying bare to the universal gaze, the very groundwork, the most secret paths, the darkest coverts, of one of the most wayward and unimaginable minds ever framed by nature. From the moment that his first literary success had wedded him to the public, this was his history, -and such his strange, contradictory, divided life. Shy, and shunning the faces of men in his daily walks, yet searching and rending up the inmost recesses of his heart for the inspection of that race which he feared or haled. As a man, turning from the light, as from something unsupportably loathsome, and plunging into the thickest shades. Yet, in that other existence which he held from imagination, living only in the presence of men, -in the full broad glare of the world's eye,-and eagerly, impetuously, passionately, unsparingly seizing on all his own most hidden thoughts his loneliest moods--his most sacred feelings—which had been cherished for thie seclusion in which they sprung-for their own still deep peaceand for their breathings of unbeheld communions, -seizing upon all these and flinging them out into the open air, that they might feed the curiosity of that eager, idle, frivolous world from which he had fled in misanthropical disgust--that he might array an exhibition to their greedy gaze,-and that he, the morbid and melancholy lover of solitude, might act a conspicuous and applauded part on the crowded theatre of public fame.
It might, on a hasty consideration, seem to us, that such undisguised revelation of feelings and passions, which the becoming pride of human nature, jealous of its own dignity, would, in general, desire to hold in unviolated silence, could produce in the public mind only pity, sorrow, or repugnance. But, in the case of men of real genius, like Rousseau or Byron, it is otherwise. Each of us must have been aware in himself of a singular illusion, by which these disclosures, when read with that tender or high interest which attaches to poetry, seem to have something of the nature of private and confidential communications. They are not felt, while we read, as declarations published to the world, but almost as secrets whispered to
chosen ears. Who is there that feels, for a moment, that the voice which reaches the inmost recesses of his heart is speaking to the careless multitudes around him? Or, if we do so remember, the words seem to pass by others like air, and to find their way to the hearts for whom they were intended, -kindred and sympathising spirits, who discern and own that secret language, of which the privacy is not violated, though spoken in hearing of the uninitiated, -because it is not understood. There is an unobserved beauty that smiles on us alone; and the more beautiful to us, because we feel as if chosen out from a crowd of lovers. Something analogous to this is felt in the grandest scenes of Nature and of Art. Let a hundred persons look from a hill-top over some transcendent landscape. Each will select from the wide-spread glory at his feet, for his more special love and delight, some different glimpse of sunshine, -or solemn grove, or embowered spire, -or brown-mouldering ruin,-or castellated cloud. During their contemplation, the soul of each man is amidst its own creations, and in the heart of his own solitude;-nor is the depth of that solitude broken, though it lies open to the sunshine, and before the eyes of unnumbered spectators. It is the same in great and impressive scenes of art,-for example, in a theatre. The tenderest tones of acted tragedy reach our hearts with a feeling as if that inmost soul which they disclose revealed itself to us alone. The audience of a theatre forms a sublime unity to the actor; but each person sees and feels with the same incommunicated intensity, as if all passed oply before his own gisted sight. The publicity which is before our eyes is not acknowledged by our minds; and each heart feels itself to be the sole agitated witness of the pageant of misery.
But there are other reasons why we read with complacency writings which, by the most public declaration of most secret feeling, ought, it might seem, to shock and revolt our sympathy. A great poet may address the whole world in the language of intensest passion, concerning objects of which rather than speak, face to face, with any one human being on earth, he would perish in his misery; for it is in solitude that he utters what is to be wasted by all the winds of heaven. There are, during his inspiration, present with him only the shadows of men. He is not daunted, or perplexed, or disturbed, or repelled by real, living, breathing features. He can updraw just as much as he chooses of the curtain that hangs between his own solitude and the world of life. He thus pours his soul out, partly to himself alone, -partly to the ideal abstractions, and impersonated images, ihat float round him at his own conjuration,-and partly to human beings like himself, moving in the dark distance of the every-day world. He consessed himself, not before men, but before the Spirit of llumanity. And he thus fearlessly lays open his heart, -assured that nature never prompted unto genius that which will not triumphauiiy force its wide way inlo the human heart. We can thus casily imagine the poet whom, in real life, the countenances and voices of his fellow-men might silence into shame, or fastidiousness, or timidity, or aversion, or disdain, - yet kindling in his solitude into irrepressible passion and enthusiasm towards human nature and all its transitory concerns, -anxiously moulding himself into the object of men's most engrossing and vehement love or aversion, -identifying his own existence with all their strongest and profoundest passions, claiming kindred with them, not in their virtues alone, but in iheir darkest vices and most fatal errors ;-yet, in the midst of all this, proudly guarding his own prevailing character, so that it shall not merge in