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- as if we had not a direct apprehension, but only a mental representation of it: and his doctrine of space as an abstraction implies the same thing. It is strange, that after the researches and criticisms of Sir William Hamilton, this ambiguity should characterise the language of well-informed writers, who certainly in substance and in spirit adhere to the doctrines of "natural realism.” The use which is made of the second postulate as the basis of morals and theology, so far as their speculative foundation is concerned, has already been seen. The third (which, properly speaking, includes the former two) is applied to the refutation of the selfish and utilitarian theories of the social emotions, and to the determination of man's relations to the unknown and infinite. This enumeration presents but a few of the topics discussed. In dwelling as we have done on the small points of difference which divide us from the author, we have principally had regard to the claims of his work as “an elementary book.” We have, therefore, animadverted principally on those portions of it which seemed to us likely to lead to misconception on the part of those using it as an introduction to mental science. But in quitting it, we desire to express our conviction that, if not precisely fitted to answer the purpose intended, it will discharge a function yet more important. Within the same bulk, we know of no work on the higher philosophy abounding more in veracious, subtle, and suggestive thought, clothed in a style which, if occasionally somewhat too elaborate and involved, wanting in simplicity and directness, yet well reflects the finer and more delicate shades of the meaning it conveys.
ART. VIII.-MR. COVENTRY PATMORE'S POEMS. The Angel in the House: Book I. The Betrothal. Book II. The
Espousals. By Coventry Patmore. Second Edition. London: J.
W. Parker and Son, 1857. Tamerton Church-tower, and other Poems. By Coventry Patmore.
London: J. W. Parker and Son, 1857. It is impossible to imagine any works, admitting of comparison at all, more remarkably contrasted than those of Mr. Alexander Smith, reviewed in our last Number, and those of Mr. Coventry Patmore, which we propose briefly to notice in this. They differ not only in merit, but in all those qualities which leave the question of merit undetermined. They are each the other's antithesis. What Mr. Smith is, that Mr. Patmore emphatically is not. Inferior in command of words, in richness of imagery,
in the music of his rhythms, in all, in fact, that constitutes the mere vesture of poetry, to the author of the Life Drama and the City Poems, Mr. Patmore is infinitely superior to him in all that is essential. His fancies are not like Mr. Smith's, and the earth, "upon nothing hung.” He has thoughts to express, a definite meaning to convey, often subtle and suggestive, and sometimes deep and true.. And his language is transparent to his thought. It fits it closely, like hand and glove. It is free from all meretricious ornament. Simplicity is its characteristic. His muse is not clad in a coat of many colours, but “whiterobed and pure.”
Nor does he differ more from Mr. Smith, and the spasmodic school generally, in the characteristics we have named than in his views of art and of human life. With genuine poetic gifts, he has improved them by sedulous culture and study. He is not eaten up with an ambition to produce a poem which shall “make pale the braggart cheek of the world,” nor a victim of the delusion that such a poem can be produced " at a dash.” His aim is rather to “instruct and warn.” He feels that a worthy muse should be employed upon some worthy subject. The poets of the spasmodic school appear to think that the greatness of their powers will be best shown in contrast with the meanness of the topic on which they employ them; just as the
2 alchemist's triumph would be the greater, the baser the metal which he converted into gold. And if self-display is their object, they may be right. Mr. Patmore has expressed a different doctrine in the following lines, which stand near the commencement of his last poem, and embody its distinguishing tone and spirit:
“How vilely 'twere to misdeserve
The poet's gift of perfect speech,
The limit of its utmost reach,
Of what to-morrow shall not be,
The cross-bones of mortality!
That all the loveliness I sing
And blossom in a better Spring.
Of body and spirit, soul and sense;
And disavow the consequence.” We have said that his views of human life are in contrast with those of the spasmodic school. In Mr. Dobell's Balder, the hero,—who, so far as serious intention can be ascribed to the author at all, is evidently designed to be the type of poetic
genius,-is anxious to enrich himself with a varied and Goethelike experience of human nature. He is desirous of tasting
“ All thoughts, all passions, all desires,
Whatever thrills this mortal frame." But to do this, it is necessary that he should know what remorse is. Therefore, to gratify himself with that sensation, he kills his innocent wife and (we believe) her infant child. And all this in the interests of high art. Mr. Patmore's conceptions of the moral discipline of the poet are very different. He should be “girt with thought and prayer” for his task. To him “strong passions mean weak will," while
“ He safest walks in darkest ways
Whose youth is lighted from above." Like those of most young poets, his earlier productions were of a somewhat dolorous cast. His heroes were sadly unfortunate, mostly in their love affairs. But there is nothing of the “curse God and die” style of sentiment, which seems to be considered natural and impressive under such circumstances. On the contrary, the one lesson is variously enforced :
* Best fruits come not of sunniest years;
Good use have griefs; they try
And man with men ally.” We are aware that it is asserted by many that the poet has nothing to do with moral considerations; that art cannot have an ethical purpose without forfeiting its own proper character. And examples enough can be quoted of great poems—though not the greatest—which seem to show that the two are not necessarily connected; that views of life little pure and elevated are compatible with the loftiest imaginative genius. On the other hand, the proof is yet more abundant that the most excellent morality may be embodied in very wretched verse. But, of course, if the essence of poetry is truth, the more and the deeper the truth it teaches, the higher, other things being equal, will be the poetry. The moralist starts from certain principles and convictions, and looks about him for the means of most powerfully enforcing them. The poet is possessed with a conception, the ideal of a character, the picture of a scene, the grouping and mutual action of various connected circumstances and persons. He will be able to embody them with most effect in proportion as he sees all the relations that are involved in them, and can make the visible symbolise the invisible. And as there are few things which do not involve ethical considerations, or considerations still higher, so there are few topics to which such considerations will be foreign. Only they should appear as a part of the work, involved in its completeness, and not as an inference syllogistically deducible from it. They should shape and inform it like a pervading spirit, rather than enter any separate appearance for themselves. Mr. Patmore is far from being a didactic poet,-a phrase which involves a combination of ideas that we find difficult to realise at all; but pure and high aims and convictions breathe through all he writes.
The "spasmodic school” is so widely and deeply influencing our contemporary literature, that Mr. Patmore's freedom from its characteristic vices is worthy of distinct record and commendation. Of living writers, if we except Carlyle, none has impressed himself so powerfully on the age as Tennyson. His genius and spirit, if they have not yet sunk down into the lower strata of society, have been absorbed into, and have thoroughly interpenetrated-or, perhaps, rather have expressed and consciously represented—the mind of all classes partaking even the least tincture of cultivation. Not only are his minutest peculiarities of thought and phrase echoed back upon us from almost every volume of verse that issues from the press, but works of the highest scholarship and philosophy find in his nobler lines the fitting illustration and embodiment of their views. Yet Tennyson's latest poem must be pronounced spasmodic. That he should have influenced the school so named, is not to be wondered at; we may “trace the noble dust of Alexander till we find it stopping a bung-hole.” But that he should be influenced by them in return, or even seem to have been so, is a phenomenon worthy of brief consideration, and not so remote as it may appear from the criticism of Mr. Patmore's writings. The origin and popularity of the spasmodic school have had their causes, and these causes may be discovered. They are the natural result of tendencies long working in the English mind. Paradox as it may appear, that school is the direct though degenerate offspring of the meditative and philosophical poetry of the last generation; it does not trace its lineage through Byron and Shelley, with whom it has obvious affinities, but through Wordsworth and Coleridge, with whom it seems to have nothing in common. A few words may make this clear.
The more popular, and, in their several ways, not less illustrious contemporaries of these great poets,-Scott and Crabbe and Moore, and the others we have named, — deal with romantic adventure, with vigorous and pathetic delineation of human action and suffering, with the strong utterances of individual passion or the lighter play of fancy. There is scarcely a trace in their writings of thought, technically so called. The universe and its mysterious allotments do not press on them as problems needing and demanding solution. They are not “full of the riddle of the pain
ful earth.” Shelley may seem an exception to this remark. But he is so only in appearance. He did not doubt. There is no trace of perplexed hesitancy in him. Definite, and even fierce, convictions (negative though they were) underlie all that he wrote. He is essentially dogmatic,—the propagandist of a creed into which an
a impulsive nature and untoward circumstances drove him, rather than the meditative and open-minded student of nature and of life. Almost equally with those whom we have named with him, he was a stranger to
“ those obstinate questionings
Moving about in worlds not realised," which haunt the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge.
From the conscientious and reverent meditation of these transcendent themes, a certain amount, at best a passing and recurring shade, of scepticism is scarcely separable. And generally they bring with them a period of desolating doubt of all that it is most sacred and essential to believe, under the shadow of which nature and life lose all their glory and peace. It was Hamlet's scepticism which coloured the universe with the melancholy hues in which to his eyes it was clothed. There are few minds which have not at some time or other seen the expression of their own saddest moods in these well-known words,--"This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a steril promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you,—this brave o'erhanging,—this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust ? Man delights me not; no nor woman neither.” In closest connection with this frame of mind are the bursts of passion which urge Hamlet (like a spasmodic poet) to
“unpack his heart in words, And fall a-cursing like a very drab,
A scullion;" and the practical irresolution“ which debars him from enterprises of great pith and moment," and even from the single clear duty, to which a voice from the dead has summoned him.
Just in the same way, the feverish exaggerations and petulant complaints that make up so large a portion of Mr. Tennyson's Maud are a not unnatural (though by no means the inevitable)