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The main topic of discussion this evening was the poetry of Wordsworth. STANLEY opened the debate, if such it may be termed, by remarking that if we attempted to draw from Wordsworth's volumes every rural beauty they contained, Summer would disappear and Autumn lay "his fiery finger on the leaves" before the task could be accomplished. But I must attend to dramatic propriety, and allow him to speak in his own person.

STANLEY. If it be true, as the Oxford Professor of Poetry asserts, that the first duty of the Poet is to select. an excellent action, it is obvious that this high aim of his calling has by Wordsworth been systematically neglected. His great power as a poet appears to lie in the exquisite beauty of detached thoughts, of single lines or couplets; but there is no poem of his remarkable for a great action, not one, unless it be "Laodamia," the construction of which shows the hand of a consummate artist. Let me read you an extract from the preface to the first series of Mr. Arnold's poems:

"We can hardly at the present day understand what Menander meant when he told a man who inquired as to the progress of his comedy that he had finished it, not having yet written a single line, because he had constructed the action of it in his mind. A modern critic would have assured him that the merit of his piece depended on the brilliant things which arose under his pen as he went along. We have poems which seem to exist merely for the sake of single lines and passages; not for the sake of producing any total impression. We have critics who seem to direct their attention merely to detached expressions--to the language about the action, not to the action itself. I verily think that the majority of them do not in their hearts believe that there is such a thing as a total impression to be derived from a poem at all, or to be demanded from a

poet; they think the term a commonplace of metaphysical criticism. They will permit the poet to select any action he pleases, and to suffer that action to go as it will, provided he gratifies them with occasional bursts of fine writing, and with a shower of isolated thoughts and images.

That is, they permit him to leave their poetic sense ungratified, provided that he gratifies their rhetorical sense and their curiosity. Of his neglecting to gratify these there is little danger; he needs rather to be warned against the danger of attempting to gratify these alone; he needs rather to be perpetually reminded to prefer his action to everything else; so to treat this as to permit its inherent excellencies to develop themselves without interruption from the intrusion of his personal peculiarities : most fortunate when he most entirely succeeds in effacing himself, and in enabling a noble action to subsist as it did in nature."*

This criticism, and indeed the whole of Mr. Arnold's preface, contains a justly merited protest against all mere prettinesses in verse; but if preferred against the great poets of modern days, whose path in poetry lies widely apart from that of their Hellenic forefathers, I feel that the reasoning of the Professor is unsound, although I cannot quite discern where the fallacy lies. True it is that our poets care more for expression than for action ; but is this in itself a fault? and may not the change be traced to the mighty revolution which overthrew the gods of heathendom and the deification of this present life,—to the profound sense of discomfort and sadness which damps all felicity that has not its harvest time in the future?

HARTLEY. The ancient mind was in many respects freer and more joyous than the modern. The har

* Poem by Matthew Arnold. Preface to first edition, p. xxi.

mony of life in the golden age of Grecian literature and art was unruffled by the sense of personal responsibility, and by those great questions which a thoughtful man in these days would not evade if he could, and could not if he would. There was nothing then to prevent the entire dedication of a life to the service of Art, because there was nothing more noble, nothing out of which so much beauty-the god of all Grecian worship-could be evolved. The poet now-a-days lives, or professes to live, for his fellows; in the olden time he lived for himself. The office of the Vates is higher than that of the mere artist; what is lost in the perfection of self-culture is more than repaid by a larger communion with, and greater power over, the souls of men.

TALBOT. Although, alas! the wise Archbishop is dead, I suppose there is still such a book in the world as Whately's "Logic," which might sometimes be profitably studied by poet-critics and dilettanti. I listen to sage remarks, but try in vain to shape out of them a reply to the argument which Mr. Arnold has so ably urged.

STANLEY. O man, it lieth not with us to give thee a clear vision! For my part, I think that what has been said, though it may not directly cope with the Professor's line of reasoning, does yet, so to speak, by a side-light, reveal that which is unsound in it.

TALBOT. I bow to a discernment I am unable to appreciate. I am glad, however, to agree with STANLEY in the observation he made on the marked difference between Wordsworth's practice and Mr. Arnold's theory. Wordsworth, to my thinking, has, of all modern poets,

been the most faulty in his persistent disregard of a noble action as the main essential to a great poem.

What can be more unartistic than the construction of "The Excursion?" what more wilfully perverse than the selection of idiots, pedlars, waggoners, and leech-gatherers, Goody Blakes, and Harry Gills, as the dramatis persona through whom to find an utterance for his highest poesy.

HARTLEY. Undoubtedly in adopting a theory which was half true and half false, Wordsworth, has done injustice to his own powers. But the inspiration of the poet will not be shackled, and in his noblest poems his rule of poetical criticism has been utterly forgotten, and he has adhered only to the grand law laid down in his own sonnet,

"A Poet!He hath put his heart to school,
Nor dares to move unpropp'd upon the staff

Which Art hath lodged within his hand-must laugh
By precept only and shed tears by rule.

Thy Art be Nature; the live current quaff,
And let the groveller sip his stagnant pool
In fear that else, when Critics grave and cool
Have kill'd him, Scorn should write his epitaph.
How does the meadow-flower its bloom unfold?

Because the lovely little flower is free

Down to its root, and in that freedom bold;

And so the grandeur of the forest tree
Comes not by casting in a formal mould,
But from its own divine vitality."

TALBOT. Wordsworth is the prince of sonnet writers; and some of his profoundest and rarest thoughts are enshrined in these caskets. A few of them are essentially

rural in their character.

Let me read you one which has

ever been a special favourite of mine, composed on a May

morning :

"Life with yon Lambs, like day, is just begun,
Yet Nature seems to them a heavenly guide.
Does joy approach? they meet the coming tide;
And sullenness avoid, as now they shun
Pale twilight's lingering glooms,-and in the sun
Couch near their dams, with quiet satisfied;
Or gambol- each with his shadow at his side,
Varying its shape wherever he may run.
As they from turf yet hoar with sleepy dew
All turn, and court the shining and the green,
Where herbs look up, and opening flowers are seen;
Why to God's goodness cannot We be true,
And so His gifts and promises between,
Feed to the last on pleasures ever new ?"

STANLEY. A good sonnet; but, being composed on a May morning, one cannot help contrasting it with the immortal song in ten lines written by a yet greater poet. Do you remember Mr. Henry Taylor's Essay on Wordsworth's Sonnets? It evinces, like most of Taylor's prose writings, a keen critical sagacity, and much good sense expressed in a manly but heavy style.

TALBOT. Not a heavy style, I think, in itself, although, perhaps, it may appear so when contrasted with the brilliant and sensational style of composition now so much in Vogue. It is verily a luxury in these days to meet with an author who combines thoughtfulness and sound sense with the correct and vigorous use of his mother tongue. In this respect Mr. Taylor will perhaps acknowledge his indebtedness to Wordsworth himself, whose purity of lan

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