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poet, — supposing him possessed of the highest qualities of his art, — who do not advise him to labour, while the laurel around his brows yet retains its freshness. Sketches from Lord Byron are more valuable than finished pictures from others; nor are we at all sure, that any labour which he might bestow in revisal, would not rather efface than refine those outlines of striking and powerful originality which they exhibit, when flung rough from the hand of the master. No one would have wished to condemn Michael Angelo to work upon a single block of marble, until he had satisfied, in every point, the petty criticism of that Pope, who, neglecting the sublime and magnificent character and attitude of his Moses, descended to blame a wrinkle in the fold of the garment.
“ Should it be urged that, in thus stimulating genius to unsparing exertion, we encourage carelessness and hurry in the youthful candidates for literary distinction, we answer, it is not the learner to whom our remarks apply; they refer to him only, who, gifted by nature with the higher power of poetry, - an art as difficult as it is enchanting, — has made himself master, by application and study, of the mechani
cal process, and in whom, we believe, frequent exertions upon new works awaken and stimulate that genius, which might be cramped and rendered tame, by long and minute attention to finish to the highest possible degree any one of the number. If we look at our poetical library we shall find, generally speaking, the most distinguished poets have been the most voluminous, and that those who, like Gray, limited their productions to a few poems, anxiously and sedulously corrected and revised, have given them a stiff and artificial character, which, far from disarming criticism, has rather embittered its violence, while the Aristarch, like Achilles assailing Hector, meditates dealing the mortal wound through some unguarded crevice of the supposed impenetrable armour, with which the cautious bard has vainly invested himself.
“Our opinion must be necessarily qualified by the caution, that as no human invention can be infinitely fertile, as even the richest genius may be, in agricultural phrase, cropped out, and rendered sterile, and as each author must necessarily have a particular style in which he is supposed to excel, and must therefore be more or less a mannerist; no one can with prudence
persevere in forcing himself before the public when, from failure in invention, or from having rendered the peculiarities of his style over trite and familiar, the veteran • lags superfluous on the stage,' a slighted mute in those dramas where he was once the principal personage. To this humiliation vanity frequently exposes genius; and it is no doubt true that a copious power of diction, joined to habitual carelessness in composition, has frequently conduced to it.
6 We would therefore be understood to recommend to authors, while a consciousness of the possession of vigorous powers, carefully cultivated, unites with the favour of the public, to descend into the arena, and continue their efforts vigorously while their hopes are high, their spirits active, and the public propitious, in order that, on the slightest failure of nerves or breath, they may be able to withdraw themselves honourably from the contest gracefully, giving way to other candidates for fame, and cultivating studies more suitable to a flagging imagination than the fervid art of poetry. This, however, is the affair of the authors themselves : should they neglect this prudential course, the public will, no doubt, have more indifferent
books on their table than would otherwise have loaded it; and as the world always seizes the first opportunity of recalling the applause it has bestowed, the former wreaths of the writers will for a time be blighted by their immediate failure. But these evils, so far as the public is concerned, are greatly overbalanced by such as arise from the timid caution which bids genius suppress its efforts until they shall be refined into unattainable perfection : and we cannot but repeat our conviction that poetry, being, in its higher classes, an art which has for its elements sublimity and unaffected beauty, is more liable than any other to suffer from the labour of polishing, or from the elaborate and composite style of ornament, and alternate affectation of simplicity and artifice, which characterise the works, even of the first poets, when they have been over-anxious to secure public applause, by long and reiterated correction. It must be remembered that we speak. of the higher tones of composition; there are others of a subordinate character, where extreme art and labour are not bestowed in vain, But we cannot consider over-anxious correction as likely to be employed with advantage upon poems like those of Lord Byron, which have for their object to rouse the imagination, and awaken the passions."*
With the exception of “ Parisina,” the original MSS. of the poems in this Volume have been in our hands, and have furnished various readings worthy of being preserved. For the use of some of these MSS., and for many other obliging favours, we are indebted to the Honourable Mrs. Leigh.
September 16. 1832.
* See Quarterly Review, vol. xvi. p. 178.