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CHAPTER V.

The English muse loves the farm-yard, the lane, and market. She says, with De Staël, “I tramp in the mire with wooden shoes, whenever they would force me into the clouds.”

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EMERSON.

ONE long evening was spent, as I well remember, in discussing the merits or demerits of the English georgic; but I find, on referring to my tables, that our conversation on this subject was extremely barren of interest. Long and pertinent passages were read from old Tusser; and even Dyer's Fleece," and Bloomfield's "Farmer Boy," were summoned before our bar. To tell the truth, however, we gained but little precious ore from digging in this mine; and it will be as much to my reader's satisfaction as to my own, if I turn over, without transcribing from, these pages of my note book.

On the following day, when we met according to our wont, STANLEY opened a volume of Pope's works, and, turning to the pastorals, read the poem dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Tempest, which concludes as follows:

"Adieu ye vales, ye mountains, streams, and groves ; Adieu ye shepherds' rural lays and loves ;

Adieu my flocks; farewell, ye sylvan crew ;

Daphne, farewell; and all the world adieu !"

HARTLEY. Such poetry, if poetry it may be termed, gives one a low idea of the age in which it was produced

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and applauded. Pope was a boy when he wrote his pastorals; but grey-headed men found in them a proof of genius, and the poetasters of the day affected to read them with delight.

STANLEY. I have always regarded Pope as the most artificial poet in the language. Brilliant, satirical, witty, and keenly alive to his own reputation, he never forgot himself while engaged in his work. Too selfish to be enthusiastic, too careful in his composition to transgress poetical propriety, his great virtues as a poet are not allied to great faults. What he did, he did well. Yet he pretended to regard his poetry with contempt, although his one object in life was to gain from it money and fame.

TALBOT. Pope is an adept in the expression of halftruths, and in the terse, epigrammatic setting of well-known truisms; as far as his power of vision extended, his discrimination is exquisite. His versification, of which he was so proud, does not attract my ear. The "harsh numbers" of Lycidas have in them far more of true melody. I agree indeed with Leigh Hunt, that Pope's verse is "literally see-saw, like the rising and falling of a plank, with a light person at one end, who is jerked up in the briefer time, and a heavier one who is set down more leisurely at the other."

STANLEY. It is said that in early life Pope was recommended by Walsh to write a pastoral comedy; but he probably felt his incapacity for such an achievement. "It is singular," says Mr. Darley, "that such a work has not yet been produced among a people so agricultural, so devoted to rural pleasures, pursuits, and residence."

HARTLEY. A poem of that class was ill-adapted to the

powers of Pope; and he would probably have been ast unsuccessful, as in the composition of the epic which he commenced, but was wise enough to lay aside.

STANLEY. Pope is a consummate artist. I cannot regard him as a great poet. Divide our poets into two classes, and I am willing to allow Pope a place at the head of the second, unless Dryden is entitled to the pre-eminence.

HARTLEY. That there are two orders of poets Mr. Ruskin himself admits; but he will not acknowledge a third, and observes that with poetry second-rate in quality no one ought to be allowed to trouble mankind. The passage is a remarkable one, and I should like to read it to you. It will at least serve to start a topic of conversation; for, though STANLEY has referred to Pope, I presume he has not much to say about the Twickenham bard, whose poetry, despite the pictorial charm of "Windsor Forest," is in the main didactic and satirical. Mr. Ruskin, then writes as follows. I read from the third volume of "Modern Painters :"

"I admit two orders of poets, but no third; and by these two orders I mean the creative (Shakspeare, Homer, Dante), and reflective or perspective (Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson). But both of these must be first-rate in their range, though their range is different; and with poetry second-rate in quality no one ought to be allowed to trouble mankind. There is quite enough of the best-much more than we can ever read or enjoy in the length of a life; and it is a literal wrong or sin in any person to encumber us with inferior work. I have no patience with apologies made by young pseudo-poets that they believe there is some good in what they have written ; that they hope to do better in time, &c. Some good! If there

is not all good, there is no good. If they ever hope to do better why do they trouble us now? Let them rather courageously burn all they have done and wait for the better days. There are few men, ordinarily educated, who in moments of strong feeling could not strike out a poetical thought, and afterwards polish it so as to be presentable. But men of sense know better than so to waste their time, and those who sincerely love poetry, know the tones of the master's hand on the chords too well to fumble among them after him. Nay, more than this; all inferior poetry is an injury to the good, inasmuch as it takes away the freshness of rhymes, blunders upon, and gives a wretched commonalty to good thoughts, and in general adds to the weight of human weariness in a most woeful and culpable manner. There are few thoughts likely to come across ordinary men which have not already been expressed by greater men in the best possible way; and it is a wiser, more generous, more noble thing to remember and point out the perfect words, than to invent poorer ones wherewith to encumber temporarily the world."

Such is Mr. Ruskin's argument; and now tell me, both of you, whether you are prepared to join hands with him in thus doing homage to a few poets who occupy the loftiest peaks of Parnassus, and to a somewhat larger number who, with hands uplifted, may perhaps touch their skirts; while all the lower eminences of the mountain, where sublimity fades into beauty, and the sun shines lovingly on wild flowers blossoming in nooks of retired beauty, or the laughing streamlet sings over the rounded pebbles as it leaps into the valley, are to be left without inhabitant, and without any voice save that of nature, who in her lowliest ways teaches us some of the sweetest and most enduring lessons?

STANLEY. I think the passage you have read is one

which young, unfledged versifiers would do well to lay to heart. For I verily believe with Ruskin, that there is "much more" of the best poetry "than we can ever read enjoy in the length of a life."

TALBOT. That may be true, and I have no sympathy with the encouragement sometimes afforded to the efforts of pseudo-poets. At the same time, I conceive that Mr. Ruskin's argument is utterly fallacious. Not even in

poetry do we always care to dwell in sublime regions, as our choice of subject for these readings proves; and so long as a man is indeed a poet, and not a mere writer in verse, it matters not how lowly his order of genius may be. If Mr. Ruskin could have his wish, how many of those poems which are now household words-poems which, from their simplicity and tenderness, have become immortal-would be dismissed from our memories and hearts. Besides, were it even good to allow no poetry "second-rate in quality," who is to be the judge, or where is the critic so satisfied with his own judgment as in all cases to be quite sure of what is or what is not "inferior work"? Waller, as you remember, would have excluded "Paradise Lost" from the first and second order of poems, and Jeffrey would have excluded "The Excursion." If, then, critics cannot be always certain, and by many notable instances it has been proved they cannot, of the position which, in the course of years, a poet may occupy, truly the poet himself-fresh from the regions of his fancy, and flushed with thoughts which, to say the least, are nobler than any which his skill in language has enabled him to express-is not likely "courageously to burn all he has done," because far

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