Biographia Literaria
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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by Samuel Taylor Coleridge



I Motives to the present work--Reception of the Author's first
publication--Discipline of his taste at school--Effect of
contemporary writers on youthful minds--Bowles's Sonnets-
Comparison between the poets before and since

II Supposed irritability of genius brought to the test of
facts--Causes and occasions of the charge--Its injustice

III The Author's obligations to Critics, and the probable
occasion--Principles of modern criticism--Mr. Southey's
works and character

IV The Lyrical Ballads with the Preface--Mr. Wordsworth's
earlier poems--On Fancy and Imagination--The investigation
of the distinction important to the Fine Arts

V On the law of Association--Its history traced from Aristotle
to Hartley

VI That Hartley's system, as far as it differs from that of
Aristotle, is neither tenable in theory, nor founded
in facts

VII Of the necessary consequences of the Hartleian Theory--Of
the original mistake or equivocation which procured its
admission--Memoria technica

VIII The system of Dualism introduced by Des Cartes--Refined
first by Spinoza and afterwards by Leibnitz into the
doctrine of Harmonia praestabilita--Hylozoism--Materialism
--None of these systems, or any possible theory of
Association, supplies or supersedes a theory of
Perception, or explains the formation of the Associable

XI Is Philosophy possible as a science, and what are its
conditions?--Giordano Bruno--Literary Aristocracy, or the
existence of a tacit compact among the learned as a
privileged order--The Author's obligations to the Mystics-
To Immanuel Kant--The difference between the letter and
The spirit of Kant's writings, and a vindication of
Prudence in the teaching of Philosophy--Fichte's attempt
to complete the Critical system-Its partial success and
ultimate failure--Obligations to Schelling; and among
English writers to Saumarez

X A Chapter of digression and anecdotes, as an interlude
preceding that on the nature and genesis of the Imagination
or Plastic Power--On Pedantry and pedantic expressions--
Advice to young authors respecting publication--Various
anecdotes of the Author's literary life, and the progress
of his opinions in Religion and Politics

XI An affectionate exhortation to those who in early life feel
themselves disposed to become authors

XII A Chapter of requests and premonitions concerning the perusal
or omission of the chapter that follows

XIII On the Imagination, or Esemplastic power

XIV Occasion of the Lyrical Ballads, and the objects originally
proposed--Preface to the second edition--The ensuing
controversy, its causes and acrimony--Philosophic
definitions of a Poem and Poetry with scholia

XV The specific symptoms of poetic power elucidated in a
Critical analysis of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, and
Rape of Lucrece

XVI Striking points of difference between the Poets of the
present age and those of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries--Wish expressed for the union of the
characteristic merits of both

XVII Examination of the tenets peculiar to Mr. Wordsworth--
Rustic life (above all, low and rustic life) especially
unfavourable to the formation of a human diction-The
best parts of language the product of philosophers, not of
clowns or shepherds--Poetry essentially ideal and generic--
The language of Milton as much the language of real life,
yea, incomparably more so than that of the cottager

XVIII Language of metrical composition, why and wherein essentially
different from that of prose--Origin and elements of metre
--Its necessary consequences, and the conditions thereby
imposed on the metrical writer in the choice of his diction

XIX Continuation--Concerning the real object, which, it is
probable, Mr. Wordsworth had before him in his critical
preface--Elucidation and application of this

XX The former subject continued--The neutral style, or that
common to Prose and Poetry, exemplified by specimens from
Chaucer, Herbert, and others

XXI Remarks on the present mode of conducting critical journals

XXII The characteristic defects of Wordsworth's poetry, with the
principles from which the judgment, that they are defects,
is deduced--Their proportion to the beauties--For the
greatest part characteristic of his theory only


XXIII Critique on Bertram

XXIV Conclusion

So wenig er auch bestimmt seyn mag, andere zu belehren, so wuenscht er
doch sich denen mitzutheilen, die er sich gleichgesinnt weis, (oder
hofft,) deren Anzahl aber in der Breite der Welt zerstreut ist; er
wuenscht sein Verhaeltniss zu den aeltesten Freunden dadurch wieder
anzuknuepfen, mit neuen es fortzusetzen, und in der letzten Generation
sich wieder andere fur seine uebrige Lebenszeit zu gewinnen. Er
wuenscht der Jugend die Umwege zu ersparen, auf denen er sich selbst
verirrte. (Goethe. Einleitung in die Propylaeen.)

TRANSLATION. Little call as he may have to instruct others, he wishes
nevertheless to open out his heart to such as he either knows or hopes
to be of like mind with himself, but who are widely scattered in the
world: he wishes to knit anew his connections with his oldest friends,
to continue those recently formed, and to win other friends among the
rising generation for the remaining course of his life. He wishes to
spare the young those circuitous paths, on which he himself had lost
his way.



Motives to the present work--Reception of the Author's first
publication--Discipline of his taste at school--Effect of contemporary
writers on youthful minds--Bowles's Sonnets--Comparison between the
poets before and since Pope.

It has been my lot to have had my name introduced both in
conversation, and in print, more frequently than I find it easy to
explain, whether I consider the fewness, unimportance, and limited
circulation of my writings, or the retirement and distance, in which I
have lived, both from the literary and political world. Most often it
has been connected with some charge which I could not acknowledge, or
some principle which I had never entertained. Nevertheless, had I had
no other motive or incitement, the reader would not have been troubled
with this exculpation. What my additional purposes were, will be seen
in the following pages. It will be found, that the least of what I
have written concerns myself personally. I have used the narration
chiefly for the purpose of giving a continuity to the work, in part
for the sake of the miscellaneous reflections suggested to me by
particular events, but still more as introductory to a statement of my
principles in Politics, Religion, and Philosophy, and an application
of the rules, deduced from philosophical principles, to poetry and
criticism. But of the objects, which I proposed to myself, it was not
the least important to effect, as far as possible, a settlement of the
long continued controversy concerning the true nature of poetic
diction; and at the same time to define with the utmost impartiality
the real poetic character of the poet, by whose writings this
controversy was first kindled, and has been since fuelled and fanned.

In the spring of 1796, when I had but little passed the verge of
manhood, I published a small volume of juvenile poems. They were
received with a degree of favour, which, young as I was, I well know
was bestowed on them not so much for any positive merit, as because
they were considered buds of hope, and promises of better works to
come. The critics of that day, the most flattering, equally with the
severest, concurred in objecting to them obscurity, a general
turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new coined double epithets
[1]. The first is the fault which a writer is the least able to detect
in his own compositions: and my mind was not then sufficiently
disciplined to receive the authority of others, as a substitute for my
own conviction. Satisfied that the thoughts, such as they were, could
not have been expressed otherwise, or at least more perspicuously, I
forgot to inquire, whether the thoughts themselves did not demand a
degree of attention unsuitable to the nature and objects of poetry.
This remark however applies chiefly, though not exclusively, to the
Religious Musings. The remainder of the charge I admitted to its full
extent, and not without sincere acknowledgments both to my private and
public censors for their friendly admonitions. In the after editions,
I pruned the double epithets with no sparing hand, and used my best
efforts to tame the swell and glitter both of thought and diction;
though in truth, these parasite plants of youthful poetry had
insinuated themselves into my longer poems with such intricacy of
union, that I was often obliged to omit disentangling the weed, from
the fear of snapping the flower. From that period to the date of the
present work I have published nothing, with my name, which could by
any possibility have come before the board of anonymous criticism.
Even the three or four poems, printed with the works of a friend [2],
as far as they were censured at all, were charged with the same or
similar defects, (though I am persuaded not with equal justice),--with
an excess of ornament, in addition to strained and elaborate diction.
I must be permitted to add, that, even at the early period of my
juvenile poems, I saw and admitted the superiority of an austerer and
more natural style, with an insight not less clear, than I at present
possess. My judgment was stronger than were my powers of realizing its
dictates; and the faults of my language, though indeed partly owing to
a wrong choice of subjects, and the desire of giving a poetic
colouring to abstract and metaphysical truths, in which a new world
then seemed to open upon me, did yet, in part likewise, originate in
unfeigned diffidence of my own comparative talent.--During several
years of my youth and early manhood, I reverenced those who had re-
introduced the manly simplicity of the Greek, and of our own elder
poets, with such enthusiasm as made the hope seem presumptuous of
writing successfully in the same style. Perhaps a similar process has
happened to others; but my earliest poems were marked by an ease and
simplicity, which I have studied, perhaps with inferior success, to
impress on my later compositions.

At school, (Christ's Hospital,) I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of
a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe master, the
Reverend James Bowyer. He early moulded my taste to the preference of
Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and again of
Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me to compare Lucretius, (in such
extracts as I then read,) Terence, and above all the chaster poems of
Catullus, not only with the Roman poets of the, so called, silver and
brazen ages; but with even those of the Augustan aera: and on grounds
of plain sense and universal logic to see and assert the superiority
of the former in the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and
diction. At the same time that we were studying the Greek tragic
poets, he made us read Shakespeare and Milton as lessons: and they
were the lessons too, which required most time and trouble to bring
up, so as to escape his censure. I learned from him, that poetry, even
that of the loftiest and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, had a
logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult,
because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more
fugitive causes. In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a
reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of
every word; and I well remember that, availing himself of the
synonymes to the Homer of Didymus, he made us attempt to show, with
regard to each, why it would not have answered the same purpose; and
wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in the original

In our own English compositions, (at least for the last three years of
our school education,) he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or
image, unsupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might
have been conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer words [3].
Lute, harp, and lyre, Muse, Muses, and inspirations, Pegasus,
Parnassus, and Hippocrene were all an abomination to him. In fancy I
can almost hear him now, exclaiming "Harp? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink,
boy, you mean! Muse, boy, Muse? Your nurse's daughter, you mean!
Pierian spring? Oh aye! the cloister-pump, I suppose!" Nay certain
introductions, similes, and examples, were placed by name on a list of
interdiction. Among the similes, there was, I remember, that of the
manchineel fruit, as suiting equally well with too many subjects; in
which however it yielded the palm at once to the example of Alexander
and Clytus, which was equally good and apt, whatever might be the
theme. Was it ambition? Alexander and Clytus!-Flattery? Alexander and
repentance? Still, still Alexander and Clytus! At length, the praises
of agriculture having been exemplified in the sagacious observation
that, had Alexander been holding the plough, he would not have run his
friend Clytus through with a spear, this tried, and serviceable old
friend was banished by public edict in saecula saeculorum. I have
sometimes ventured to think, that a list of this kind, or an index
expurgatorius of certain well-known and ever-returning phrases, both
introductory, and transitional, including a large assortment of modest
egoisms, and flattering illeisms, and the like, might be hung up in
our Law-courts, and both Houses of Parliament, with great advantage to
the public, as an important saving of national time, an incalculable
relief to his Majesty's ministers, but above all, as insuring the
thanks of country attornies, and their clients, who have private bills
to carry through the House.

Be this as it may, there was one custom of our master's, which I
cannot pass over in silence, because I think it imitable and worthy of
imitation. He would often permit our exercises, under some pretext of
want of time, to accumulate, till each lad had four or five to be
looked over. Then placing the whole number abreast on his desk, he
would ask the writer, why this or that sentence might not have found
as appropriate a place under this or that other thesis: and if no
satisfying answer could be returned, and two faults of the same kind
were found in one exercise, the irrevocable verdict followed, the
exercise was torn up, and another on the same subject to be produced,
in addition to the tasks of the day. The reader will, I trust, excuse
this tribute of recollection to a man, whose severities, even now, not
seldom furnish the dreams, by which the blind fancy would fain
interpret to the mind the painful sensations of distempered sleep; but
neither lessen nor dim the deep sense of my moral and intellectual
obligations. He sent us to the University excellent Latin and Greek
scholars, and tolerable Hebraists. Yet our classical knowledge was the
least of the good gifts, which we derived from his zealous and
conscientious tutorage. He is now gone to his final reward, full of
years, and full of honours, even of those honours, which were dearest
to his heart, as gratefully bestowed by that school, and still binding
him to the interests of that school, in which he had been himself
educated, and to which during his whole life he was a dedicated thing.

From causes, which this is not the place to investigate, no models of
past times, however perfect, can have the same vivid effect on the
youthful mind, as the productions of contemporary genius. The
discipline, my mind had undergone, Ne falleretur rotundo sono et
versuum cursu, cincinnis, et floribus; sed ut inspiceret quidnam
subesset, quae, sedes, quod firmamentum, quis fundus verbis; an
figures essent mera ornatura et orationis fucus; vel sanguinis e
materiae ipsius corde effluentis rubor quidam nativus et incalescentia
genuina;--removed all obstacles to the appreciation of excellence in
style without diminishing my delight. That I was thus prepared for the
perusal of Mr. Bowles's sonnets and earlier poems, at once increased
their influence, and my enthusiasm. The great works of past ages seem
to a young man things of another race, in respect to which his
faculties must remain passive and submiss, even as to the stars and
mountains. But the writings of a contemporary, perhaps not many years
older than himself, surrounded by the same circumstances, and
disciplined by the same manners, possess a reality for him, and
inspire an actual friendship as of a man for a man. His very
admiration is the wind which fans and feeds his hope. The poems
themselves assume the properties of flesh and blood. To recite, to
extol, to contend for them is but the payment of a debt due to one,
who exists to receive it.

There are indeed modes of teaching which have produced, and are
producing, youths of a very different stamp; modes of teaching, in
comparison with which we have been called on to despise our great
public schools, and universities,

in whose halls are hung
Armoury of the invincible knights of old--

modes, by which children are to be metamorphosed into prodigies. And
prodigies with a vengeance have I known thus produced; prodigies of
self-conceit, shallowness, arrogance, and infidelity! Instead of
storing the memory, during the period when the memory is the
predominant faculty, with facts for the after exercise of the
judgment; and instead of awakening by the noblest models the fond and
unmixed love and admiration, which is the natural and graceful temper
of early youth; these nurslings of improved pedagogy are taught to
dispute and decide; to suspect all but their own and their lecturer's
wisdom; and to hold nothing sacred from their contempt, but their own
contemptible arrogance; boy-graduates in all the technicals, and in
all the dirty passions and impudence of anonymous criticism. To such
dispositions alone can the admonition of Pliny be requisite, Neque
enim debet operibus ejus obesse, quod vivit. An si inter eos, quos
nunquam vidimus, floruisset, non solum libros ejus, verum etiam
imagines conquireremus, ejusdem nunc honor prasentis, et gratia quasi
satietate languescet? At hoc pravum, malignumque est, non admirari
hominem admiratione dignissimum, quia videre, complecti, nec laudare
tantum, verum etiam amare contingit.

I had just entered on my seventeenth year, when the sonnets of Mr.
Bowles, twenty in number, and just then published in a quarto
pamphlet, were first made known and presented to me, by a schoolfellow
who had quitted us for the University, and who, during the whole time
that he was in our first form (or in our school language a Grecian,)
had been my patron and protector. I refer to Dr. Middleton, the truly
learned, and every way excellent Bishop of Calcutta:

qui laudibus amplis
Ingenium celebrare meum, calamumque solebat,
Calcar agens animo validum. Non omnia terra
Obruta; vivit amor, vivit dolor; ora negatur
Dulcia conspicere; at fiere et meminisse relictum est.

It was a double pleasure to me, and still remains a tender
recollection, that I should have received from a friend so revered the
first knowledge of a poet, by whose works, year after year, I was so
enthusiastically delighted and inspired. My earliest acquaintances
will not have forgotten the undisciplined eagerness and impetuous
zeal, with which I laboured to make proselytes, not only of my
companions, but of all with whom I conversed, of whatever rank, and in
whatever place. As my school finances did not permit me to purchase
copies, I made, within less than a year and a half, more than forty
transcriptions, as the best presents I could offer to those, who had
in any way won my regard. And with almost equal delight did I receive
the three or four following publications of the same author.

Though I have seen and known enough of mankind to be well aware, that
I shall perhaps stand alone in my creed, and that it will be well, if
I subject myself to no worse charge than that of singularity; I am not
therefore deterred from avowing, that I regard, and ever have regarded
the obligations of intellect among the most sacred of the claims of
gratitude. A valuable thought, or a particular train of thoughts,
gives me additional pleasure, when I can safely refer and attribute it
to the conversation or correspondence of another. My obligations to
Mr. Bowles were indeed important, and for radical good. At a very
premature age, even before my fifteenth year, I had bewildered myself
in metaphysics, and in theological controversy. Nothing else pleased
me. History, and particular facts, lost all interest in my mind.
Poetry--(though for a school-boy of that age, I was above par in
English versification, and had already produced two or three
compositions which, I may venture to say, without reference to my age,
were somewhat above mediocrity, and which had gained me more credit
than the sound, good sense of my old master was at all pleased with,)
--poetry itself, yea, novels and romances, became insipid to me. In my
friendless wanderings on our leave-days [4], (for I was an orphan, and
had scarcely any connections in London,) highly was I delighted, if
any passenger, especially if he were dressed in black, would enter
into conversation with me. For I soon found the means of directing it
to my favourite subjects

Of providence, fore-knowledge, will, and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, fore-knowledge absolute,
And found no end in wandering mazes lost.

This preposterous pursuit was, beyond doubt, injurious both to my
natural powers, and to the progress of my education. It would perhaps
have been destructive, had it been continued; but from this I was
auspiciously withdrawn, partly indeed by an accidental introduction to
an amiable family, chiefly however, by the genial influence of a style
of poetry, so tender and yet so manly, so natural and real, and yet so
dignified and harmonious, as the sonnets and other early poems of Mr.
Bowles. Well would it have been for me, perhaps, had I never relapsed
into the same mental disease; if I had continued to pluck the flower
and reap the harvest from the cultivated surface, instead of delving
in the unwholesome quicksilver mines of metaphysic lore. And if in
after time I have sought a refuge from bodily pain and mismanaged
sensibility in abstruse researches, which exercised the strength and
subtilty of the understanding without awakening the feelings of the
heart; still there was a long and blessed interval, during which my
natural faculties were allowed to expand, and my original tendencies
to develop themselves;--my fancy, and the love of nature, and the
sense of beauty in forms and sounds.

The second advantage, which I owe to my early perusal, and admiration
of these poems, (to which let me add,) though known to me at a somewhat
later period, the Lewesdon Hill of Mr. Crowe bears more immediately on
my present subject. Among those with whom I conversed, there were, of
course, very many who had formed their taste, and their notions of
poetry, from the writings of Pope and his followers; or to speak more
generally, in that school of French poetry, condensed and invigorated
by English understanding, which had predominated from the last
century. I was not blind to the merits of this school, yet, as from
inexperience of the world, and consequent want of sympathy with the
general subjects of these poems, they gave me little pleasure, I
doubtless undervalued the kind, and with the presumption of youth
withheld from its masters the legitimate name of poets. I saw that the
excellence of this kind consisted in just and acute observations on
men and manners in an artificial state of society, as its matter and
substance; and in the logic of wit, conveyed in smooth and strong
epigrammatic couplets, as its form: that even when the subject was
addressed to the fancy, or the intellect, as in the Rape of the Lock,
or the Essay on Man; nay, when it was a consecutive narration, as in
that astonishing product of matchless talent and ingenuity Pope's
Translation of the Iliad; still a point was looked for at the end of
each second line, and the whole was, as it were, a sorites, or, if I
may exchange a logical for a grammatical metaphor, a conjunction
disjunctive, of epigrams. Meantime the matter and diction seemed to me
characterized not so much by poetic thoughts, as by thoughts
translated into the language of poetry. On this last point, I had
occasion to render my own thoughts gradually more and more plain to
myself, by frequent amicable disputes concerning Darwin's Botanic
Garden, which, for some years, was greatly extolled, not only by the
reading public in general, but even by those, whose genius and natural
robustness of understanding enabled them afterwards to act foremost in
dissipating these "painted mists" that occasionally rise from the
marshes at the foot of Parnassus. During my first Cambridge vacation,
I assisted a friend in a contribution for a literary society in
Devonshire: and in this I remember to have compared Darwin's work to
the Russian palace of ice, glittering, cold and transitory. In the
same essay too, I assigned sundry reasons, chiefly drawn from a
comparison of passages in the Latin poets with the original Greek,
from which they were borrowed, for the preference of Collins's odes to
those of Gray; and of the simile in Shakespeare

How like a younker or a prodigal
The scarfed bark puts from her native bay,
Hugg'd and embraced by the strumpet wind!
How like the prodigal doth she return,
With over-weather'd ribs and ragged sails,
Lean, rent, and beggar'd by the strumpet wind!
(Merch. of Ven. Act II. sc. 6.)

to the imitation in the Bard;

Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows
While proudly riding o'er the azure realm
In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes,
Youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm;
Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind's sway,
That hush'd in grim repose, expects it's evening prey.

(in which, by the bye, the words "realm" and "sway" are rhymes dearly
purchased)--I preferred the original on the ground, that in the
imitation it depended wholly on the compositor's putting, or not
putting, a small capital, both in this, and in many other passages of
the same poet, whether the words should be personifications, or mere
abstractions. I mention this, because, in referring various lines in
Gray to their original in Shakespeare and Milton, and in the clear
perception how completely all the propriety was lost in the transfer,
I was, at that early period, led to a conjecture, which, many years
afterwards was recalled to me from the same thought having been
started in conversation, but far more ably, and developed more fully,
by Mr. Wordsworth;--namely, that this style of poetry, which I have
characterized above, as translations of prose thoughts into poetic
language, had been kept up by, if it did not wholly arise from, the
custom of writing Latin verses, and the great importance attached to
these exercises, in our public schools. Whatever might have been the
case in the fifteenth century, when the use of the Latin tongue was so
general among learned men, that Erasmus is said to have forgotten his
native language; yet in the present day it is not to be supposed, that
a youth can think in Latin, or that he can have any other reliance on
the force or fitness of his phrases, but the authority of the writer
from whom he has adopted them. Consequently he must first prepare his
thoughts, and then pick out, from Virgil, Horace, Ovid, or perhaps
more compendiously from his Gradus, halves and quarters of lines, in
which to embody them.

I never object to a certain degree of disputatiousness in a young man
from the age of seventeen to that of four or five and twenty, provided
I find him always arguing on one side of the question. The
controversies, occasioned by my unfeigned zeal for the honour of a
favourite contemporary, then known to me only by his works, were of
great advantage in the formation and establishment of my taste and
critical opinions. In my defence of the lines running into each other,
instead of closing at each couplet; and of natural language, neither
bookish, nor vulgar, neither redolent of the lamp, nor of the kennel,
such as I will remember thee; instead of the same thought tricked up
in the rag-fair finery of,

------thy image on her wing
Before my fancy's eye shall memory bring,--

I had continually to adduce the metre and diction of the Greek poets,
from Homer to Theocritus inclusively; and still more of our elder
English poets, from Chaucer to Milton. Nor was this all. But as it was
my constant reply to authorities brought against me from later poets
of great name, that no authority could avail in opposition to Truth,
Nature, Logic, and the Laws of Universal Grammar; actuated too by my
former passion for metaphysical investigations; I laboured at a solid
foundation, on which permanently to ground my opinions, in the
component faculties of the human mind itself, and their comparative
dignity and importance. According to the faculty or source, from which
the pleasure given by any poem or passage was derived, I estimated the
merit of such poem or passage. As the result of all my reading and
meditation, I abstracted two critical aphorisms, deeming them to
comprise the conditions and criteria of poetic style;--first, that not
the poem which we have read, but that to which we return, with the
greatest pleasure, possesses the genuine power, and claims the name of
essential poetry;--secondly, that whatever lines can be translated
into other words of the same language, without diminution of their
significance, either in sense or association, or in any worthy
feeling, are so far vicious in their diction. Be it however observed,
that I excluded from the list of worthy feelings, the pleasure derived
from mere novelty in the reader, and the desire of exciting wonderment
at his powers in the author. Oftentimes since then, in pursuing French
tragedies, I have fancied two marks of admiration at the end of each
line, as hieroglyphics of the author's own admiration at his own
cleverness. Our genuine admiration of a great poet is a continuous
undercurrent of feeling! it is everywhere present, but seldom anywhere
as a separate excitement. I was wont boldly to affirm, that it would
be scarcely more difficult to push a stone out from the Pyramids with
the bare hand, than to alter a word, or the position of a word, in
Milton or Shakespeare, (in their most important works at least,)
without making the poet say something else, or something worse, than
he does say. One great distinction, I appeared to myself to see
plainly between even the characteristic faults of our elder poets, and
the false beauty of the moderns. In the former, from Donne to Cowley,
we find the most fantastic out-of-the-way thoughts, but in the most
pure and genuine mother English, in the latter the most obvious
thoughts, in language the most fantastic and arbitrary. Our faulty
elder poets sacrificed the passion and passionate flow of poetry to
the subtleties of intellect and to the stars of wit; the moderns to
the glare and glitter of a perpetual, yet broken and heterogeneous
imagery, or rather to an amphibious something, made up, half of image,
and half of abstract [5] meaning. The one sacrificed the heart to the
head; the other both heart and head to point and drapery.

The reader must make himself acquainted with the general style of
composition that was at that time deemed poetry, in order to
understand and account for the effect produced on me by the Sonnets,
the Monody at Matlock, and the Hope, of Mr. Bowles; for it is peculiar
to original genius to become less and less striking, in proportion to
its success in improving the taste and judgment of its contemporaries.
The poems of West, indeed, had the merit of chaste and manly diction;
but they were cold, and, if I may so express it, only dead-coloured;
while in the best of Warton's there is a stiffness, which too often
gives them the appearance of imitations from the Greek. Whatever
relation, therefore, of cause or impulse Percy's collection of Ballads
may bear to the most popular poems of the present day; yet in a more
sustained and elevated style, of the then living poets, Cowper and
Bowles [6] were, to the best of my knowledge, the first who combined
natural thoughts with natural diction; the first who reconciled the
heart with the head.

It is true, as I have before mentioned, that from diffidence in my own
powers, I for a short time adopted a laborious and florid diction,
which I myself deemed, if not absolutely vicious, yet of very inferior
worth. Gradually, however, my practice conformed to my better
judgment; and the compositions of my twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth
years--(for example, the shorter blank verse poems, the lines, which
now form the middle and conclusion of the poem entitled the Destiny of
Nations, and the tragedy of Remorse)--are not more below my present
ideal in respect of the general tissue of the style than those of the
latest date. Their faults were at least a remnant of the former
leaven, and among the many who have done me the honour of putting my
poems in the same class with those of my betters, the one or two, who
have pretended to bring examples of affected simplicity from my
volume, have been able to adduce but one instance, and that out of a
copy of verses half ludicrous, half splenetic, which I intended, and
had myself characterized, as sermoni propiora.

Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an
excess, which will itself need reforming. The reader will excuse me
for noticing, that I myself was the first to expose risu honesto the
three sins of poetry, one or the other of which is the most likely to
beset a young writer. So long ago as the publication of the second
number of the Monthly Magazine, under the name of Nehemiah
Higginbottom, I contributed three sonnets, the first of which had for
its object to excite a good-natured laugh at the spirit of doleful
egotism, and at the recurrence of favourite phrases, with the double
defect of being at once trite and licentious;--the second was on low
creeping language and thoughts, under the pretence of simplicity; the
third, the phrases of which were borrowed entirely from my own poems,
on the indiscriminate use of elaborate and swelling language and
imagery. The reader will find them in the note [7] below, and will I
trust regard them as reprinted for biographical purposes alone, and
not for their poetic merits. So general at that time, and so decided
was the opinion concerning the characteristic vices of my style, that
a celebrated physician (now, alas! no more) speaking of me in other
respects with his usual kindness, to a gentleman, who was about to
meet me at a dinner party, could not however resist giving him a hint
not to mention 'The house that Jack built' in my presence, for "that I
was as sore as a boil about that sonnet;" he not knowing that I was
myself the author of it.


Supposed irritability of men of genius brought to the test of facts--
Causes and occasions of the charge--Its injustice.

I have often thought, that it would be neither uninstructive nor
unamusing to analyze, and bring forward into distinct consciousness,
that complex feeling, with which readers in general take part against
the author, in favour of the critic; and the readiness with which they
apply to all poets the old sarcasm of Horace upon the scribblers of
his time

------genus irritabile vatum.

A debility and dimness of the imaginative power, and a consequent
necessity of reliance on the immediate impressions of the senses, do,
we know well, render the mind liable to superstition and fanaticism.
Having a deficient portion of internal and proper warmth, minds of
this class seek in the crowd circum fana for a warmth in common, which
they do not possess singly. Cold and phlegmatic in their own nature,
like damp hay, they heat and inflame by co-acervation; or like bees
they become restless and irritable through the increased temperature
of collected multitudes. Hence the German word for fanaticism, (such
at least was its original import,) is derived from the swarming of
bees, namely, schwaermen, schwaermerey. The passion being in an
inverse proportion to the insight,--that the more vivid, as this the
less distinct--anger is the inevitable consequence. The absense of all
foundation within their own minds for that, which they yet believe
both true and indispensable to their safety and happiness, cannot but
produce an uneasy state of feeling, an involuntary sense of fear from
which nature has no means of rescuing herself but by anger. Experience
informs us that the first defence of weak minds is to recriminate.

There's no philosopher but sees,
That rage and fear are one disease;
Tho' that may burn, and this may freeze,
They're both alike the ague.

But where the ideas are vivid, and there exists an endless power of
combining and modifying them, the feelings and affections blend more
easily and intimately with these ideal creations than with the objects
of the senses; the mind is affected by thoughts, rather than by
things; and only then feels the requisite interest even for the most
important events and accidents, when by means of meditation they have
passed into thoughts. The sanity of the mind is between superstition
with fanaticism on the one hand, and enthusiasm with indifference and
a diseased slowness to action on the other. For the conceptions of the
mind may be so vivid and adequate, as to preclude that impulse to the
realizing of them, which is strongest and most restless in those, who
possess more than mere talent, (or the faculty of appropriating and
applying the knowledge of others,)--yet still want something of the
creative and self-sufficing power of absolute genius. For this reason
therefore, they are men of commanding genius. While the former rest
content between thought and reality, as it were in an intermundium of
which their own living spirit supplies the substance, and their
imagination the ever-varying form; the latter must impress their
preconceptions on the world without, in order to present them back to
their own view with the satisfying degree of clearness, distinctness,
and individuality. These in tranquil times are formed to exhibit a
perfect poem in palace, or temple, or landscape-garden; or a tale of
romance in canals that join sea with sea, or in walls of rock, which,
shouldering back the billows, imitate the power, and supply the
benevolence of nature to sheltered navies; or in aqueducts that,
arching the wide vale from mountain to mountain, give a Palmyra to the
desert. But alas! in times of tumult they are the men destined to come
forth as the shaping spirit of ruin, to destroy the wisdom of ages in
order to substitute the fancies of a day, and to change kings and
kingdoms, as the wind shifts and shapes the clouds [8]. The records of
biography seem to confirm this theory. The men of the greatest genius,
as far as we can judge from their own works or from the accounts of
their contemporaries, appear to have been of calm and tranquil temper
in all that related to themselves. In the inward assurance of
permanent fame, they seem to have been either indifferent or resigned
with regard to immediate reputation. Through all the works of Chaucer
there reigns a cheerfulness, a manly hilarity which makes it almost
impossible to doubt a correspondent habit of feeling in the author
himself. Shakespeare's evenness and sweetness of temper were almost
proverbial in his own age. That this did not arise from ignorance of
his own comparative greatness, we have abundant proof in his Sonnets,
which could scarcely have been known to Pope [9], when he asserted,
that our great bard--

------grew immortal in his own despite.
(Epist. to Augustus.)

Speaking of one whom he had celebrated, and contrasting the duration
of his works with that of his personal existence, Shakespeare adds:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Tho' I once gone to all the world must die;
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read;
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead:
You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen,
Where breath most breathes, e'en in the mouth of men.

I have taken the first that occurred; but Shakespeare's readiness to
praise his rivals, ore pleno, and the confidence of his own equality
with those whom he deemed most worthy of his praise, are alike
manifested in another Sonnet.

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the praise of all-too-precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb, the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonished.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost,
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast;
I was not sick of any fear from thence!
But when your countenance fill'd up his line,
Then lack'd I matter, that enfeebled mine.

In Spenser, indeed, we trace a mind constitutionally tender, delicate,
and, in comparison with his three great compeers, I had almost said,
effeminate; and this additionally saddened by the unjust persecution
of Burleigh, and the severe calamities, which overwhelmed his latter
days. These causes have diffused over all his compositions "a
melancholy grace," and have drawn forth occasional strains, the more
pathetic from their gentleness. But no where do we find the least
trace of irritability, and still less of quarrelsome or affected
contempt of his censurers.

The same calmness, and even greater self-possession, may be affirmed
of Milton, as far as his poems, and poetic character are concerned. He
reserved his anger for the enemies of religion, freedom, and his
country. My mind is not capable of forming a more august conception,
than arises from the contemplation of this great man in his latter
days;--poor, sick, old, blind, slandered, persecuted,--

Darkness before, and danger's voice behind,--

in an age in which he was as little understood by the party, for whom,
as by that against whom, he had contended; and among men before whom
he strode so far as to dwarf himself by the distance; yet still
listening to the music of his own thoughts, or if additionally
cheered, yet cheered only by the prophetic faith of two or three
solitary individuals, he did nevertheless

------argue not
Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bore up and steer'd
Right onward.

From others only do we derive our knowledge that Milton, in his latter
day, had his scorners and detractors; and even in his day of youth and
hope, that he had enemies would have been unknown to us, had they not
been likewise the enemies of his country.

I am well aware, that in advanced stages of literature, when there
exist many and excellent models, a high degree of talent, combined
with taste and judgment, and employed in works of imagination, will
acquire for a man the name of a great genius; though even that
analogon of genius, which, in certain states of society, may even
render his writings more popular than the absolute reality could have
done, would be sought for in vain in the mind and temper of the author
himself. Yet even in instances of this kind, a close examination will
often detect, that the irritability, which has been attributed to the
author's genius as its cause, did really originate in an ill
conformation of body, obtuse pain, or constitutional defect of
pleasurable sensation. What is charged to the author, belongs to the
man, who would probably have been still more impatient, but for the
humanizing influences of the very pursuit, which yet bears the blame
of his irritability.

How then are we to explain the easy credence generally given to this
charge, if the charge itself be not, as I have endeavoured to show,
supported by experience? This seems to me of no very difficult
solution. In whatever country literature is widely diffused, there
will be many who mistake an intense desire to possess the reputation
of poetic genius, for the actual powers, and original tendencies which
constitute it. But men, whose dearest wishes are fixed on objects
wholly out of their own power, become in all cases more or less
impatient and prone to anger. Besides, though it may be paradoxical to
assert, that a man can know one thing and believe the opposite, yet
assuredly a vain person may have so habitually indulged the wish, and
persevered in the attempt, to appear what he is not, as to become
himself one of his own proselytes. Still, as this counterfeit and
artificial persuasion must differ, even in the person's own feelings,
from a real sense of inward power, what can be more natural, than that
this difference should betray itself in suspicious and jealous
irritability? Even as the flowery sod, which covers a hollow, may be
often detected by its shaking and trembling.

But, alas! the multitude of books and the general diffusion of
literature, have produced other and more lamentable effects in the
world of letters, and such as are abundant to explain, though by no
means to justify, the contempt with which the best grounded complaints
of injured genius are rejected as frivolous, or entertained as matter
of merriment. In the days of Chaucer and Gower, our language might
(with due allowance for the imperfections of a simile) be compared to
a wilderness of vocal reeds, from which the favourites only of Pan or
Apollo could construct even the rude syrinx; and from this the
constructors alone could elicit strains of music. But now, partly by
the labours of successive poets, and in part by the more artificial
state of society and social intercourse, language, mechanized as it
were into a barrel-organ, supplies at once both instrument and tune.
Thus even the deaf may play, so as to delight the many. Sometimes (for
it is with similes, as it is with jests at a wine table, one is sure
to suggest another) I have attempted to illustrate the present state
of our language, in its relation to literature, by a press-room of
larger and smaller stereotype pieces, which, in the present Anglo-
Gallican fashion of unconnected, epigrammatic periods, it requires but
an ordinary portion of ingenuity to vary indefinitely, and yet still
produce something, which, if not sense, will be so like it as to do as
well. Perhaps better: for it spares the reader the trouble of
thinking; prevents vacancy, while it indulges indolence; and secures
the memory from all danger of an intellectual plethora. Hence of all
trades, literature at present demands the least talent or information;
and, of all modes of literature, the manufacturing of poems. The
difference indeed between these and the works of genius is not less
than between an egg and an egg-shell; yet at a distance they both look

Now it is no less remarkable than true, with how little examination
works of polite literature are commonly perused, not only by the mass
of readers, but by men of first rate ability, till some accident or
chance [10] discussion have roused their attention, and put them on
their guard. And hence individuals below mediocrity not less in
natural power than in acquired knowledge; nay, bunglers who have
failed in the lowest mechanic crafts, and whose presumption is in due
proportion to their want of sense and sensibility; men, who being
first scribblers from idleness and ignorance, next become libellers
from envy and malevolence,--have been able to drive a successful trade
in the employment of the booksellers, nay, have raised themselves into
temporary name and reputation with the public at large, by that most
powerful of all adulation, the appeal to the bad and malignant
passions of mankind [11]. But as it is the nature of scorn, envy, and
all malignant propensities to require a quick change of objects, such
writers are sure, sooner or later, to awake from their dream of vanity
to disappointment and neglect with embittered and envenomed feelings.
Even during their short-lived success, sensible in spite of themselves
on what a shifting foundation it rests, they resent the mere refusal
of praise as a robbery, and at the justest censures kindle at once
into violent and undisciplined abuse; till the acute disease changing
into chronical, the more deadly as the less violent, they become the
fit instruments of literary detraction and moral slander. They are
then no longer to be questioned without exposing the complainant to
ridicule, because, forsooth, they are anonymous critics, and
authorized, in Andrew Marvell's phrase, as "synodical individuals" to
speak of themselves plurali majestatico! As if literature formed a
caste, like that of the Paras in Hindostan, who, however maltreated,
must not dare to deem themselves wronged! As if that, which in all
other cases adds a deeper dye to slander, the circumstance of its
being anonymous, here acted only to make the slanderer inviolable!
[12] Thus, in part, from the accidental tempers of individuals--(men
of undoubted talent, but not men of genius)--tempers rendered yet more
irritable by their desire to appear men of genius; but still more
effectively by the excesses of the mere counterfeits both of talent
and genius; the number too being so incomparably greater of those who
are thought to be, than of those who really are men of genius; and in
part from the natural, but not therefore the less partial and unjust
distinction, made by the public itself between literary and all other
property; I believe the prejudice to have arisen, which considers an
unusual irascibility concerning the reception of its products as
characteristic of genius.

It might correct the moral feelings of a numerous class of readers, to
suppose a Review set on foot, the object of which should be to
criticise all the chief works presented to the public by our ribbon-
weavers, calico-printers, cabinet-makers, and china-manufacturers;
which should be conducted in the same spirit, and take the same
freedom with personal character, as our literary journals. They would
scarcely, I think, deny their belief, not only that the genus
irritabile would be found to include many other species besides that
of bards; but that the irritability of trade would soon reduce the
resentments of poets into mere shadow-fights in the comparison. Or is
wealth the only rational object of human interest? Or even if this
were admitted, has the poet no property in his works? Or is it a rare,
or culpable case, that he who serves at the altar of the Muses, should
be compelled to derive his maintenance from the altar, when too he has
perhaps deliberately abandoned the fairest prospects of rank and
opulence in order to devote himself, an entire and undistracted man,
to the instruction or refinement of his fellow-citizens? Or, should we
pass by all higher objects and motives, all disinterested benevolence,
and even that ambition of lasting praise which is at once the crutch
and ornament, which at once supports and betrays, the infirmity of
human virtue,--is the character and property of the man, who labours
for our intellectual pleasures, less entitled to a share of our fellow
feeling, than that of the wine-merchant or milliner? Sensibility
indeed, both quick and deep, is not only a characteristic feature, but
may be deemed a component part, of genius. But it is not less an
essential mark of true genius, that its sensibility is excited by any
other cause more powerfully than by its own personal interests; for
this plain reason, that the man of genius lives most in the ideal
world, in which the present is still constituted by the future or the
past; and because his feelings have been habitually associated with
thoughts and images, to the number, clearness, and vivacity of which
the sensation of self is always in an inverse proportion. And yet,
should he perchance have occasion to repel some false charge, or to
rectify some erroneous censure, nothing is more common than for the
many to mistake the general liveliness of his manner and language,
whatever is the subject, for the effects of peculiar irritation from
its accidental relation to himself. [13]

For myself, if from my own feelings, or from the less suspicious test
of the observations of others, I had been made aware of any literary
testiness or jealousy; I trust, that I should have been, however,
neither silly nor arrogant enough to have burthened the imperfection
on genius. But an experience--(and I should not need documents in
abundance to prove my words, if I added)--a tried experience of twenty
years, has taught me, that the original sin of my character consists
in a careless indifference to public opinion, and to the attacks of
those who influence it; that praise and admiration have become yearly
less and less desirable, except as marks of sympathy; nay that it is
difficult and distressing to me to think with any interest even about
the sale and profit of my works, important as, in my present
circumstances, such considerations must needs be. Yet it never
occurred to me to believe or fancy, that the quantum of intellectual
power bestowed on me by nature or education was in any way connected
with this habit of my feelings; or that it needed any other parents or
fosterers than constitutional indolence, aggravated into languor by
ill-health; the accumulating embarrassments of procrastination; the
mental cowardice, which is the inseparable companion of
procrastination, and which makes us anxious to think and converse on
any thing rather than on what concerns ourselves; in fine, all those
close vexations, whether chargeable on my faults or my fortunes, which
leave me but little grief to spare for evils comparatively distant and

Indignation at literary wrongs I leave to men born under happier
stars. I cannot afford it. But so far from condemning those who can, I
deem it a writer's duty, and think it creditable to his heart, to feel
and express a resentment proportioned to the grossness of the
provocation, and the importance of the object. There is no profession
on earth, which requires an attention so early, so long, or so
unintermitting as that of poetry; and indeed as that of literary
composition in general, if it be such as at all satisfies the demands
both of taste and of sound logic. How difficult and delicate a task
even the mere mechanism of verse is, may be conjectured from the
failure of those, who have attempted poetry late in life. Where then a
man has, from his earliest youth, devoted his whole being to an
object, which by the admission of all civilized nations in all ages is
honourable as a pursuit, and glorious as an attainment; what of all
that relates to himself and his family, if only we except his moral
character, can have fairer claims to his protection, or more authorize
acts of self-defence, than the elaborate products of his intellect and
intellectual industry? Prudence itself would command us to show, even
if defect or diversion of natural sensibility had prevented us from
feeling, a due interest and qualified anxiety for the offspring and
representatives of our nobler being. I know it, alas! by woful
experience. I have laid too many eggs in the hot sands of this
wilderness, the world, with ostrich carelessness and ostrich oblivion.
The greater part indeed have been trod under foot, and are forgotten;
but yet no small number have crept forth into life, some to furnish
feathers for the caps of others, and still more to plume the shafts in
the quivers of my enemies, of them that unprovoked have lain in wait
against my soul.

Sic vos, non vobis, mellificatis, apes!


The Author's obligations to critics, and the probable occasion--
Principles of modern criticism--Mr. Southey's works and character.

To anonymous critics in reviews, magazines, and news-journals of
various name and rank, and to satirists with or without a name in
verse or prose, or in verse-text aided by prose-comment, I do
seriously believe and profess, that I owe full two-thirds of whatever
reputation and publicity I happen to possess. For when the name of an
individual has occurred so frequently, in so many works, for so great
a length of time, the readers of these works--(which with a shelf or
two of beauties, elegant Extracts and Anas, form nine-tenths of the
reading of the reading Public [14])--cannot but be familiar with the
name, without distinctly remembering whether it was introduced for
eulogy or for censure. And this becomes the more likely, if (as I
believe) the habit of perusing periodical works may be properly added
to Averroes' catalogue of Anti-Mnemonics, or weakeners of the memory
[15]. But where this has not been the case, yet the reader will be apt
to suspect that there must be something more than usually strong and
extensive in a reputation, that could either require or stand so
merciless and long-continued a cannonading. Without any feeling of
anger therefore--(for which indeed, on my own account, I have no
pretext)--I may yet be allowed to express some degree of surprise,
that, after having run the critical gauntlet for a certain class of
faults which I had, nothing having come before the judgment-seat in
the interim, I should, year after year, quarter after quarter, month
after month--(not to mention sundry petty periodicals of still quicker
revolution, "or weekly or diurnal")--have been, for at least seventeen
years consecutively, dragged forth by them into the foremost ranks of
the proscribed, and forced to abide the brunt of abuse, for faults
directly opposite, and which I certainly had not. How shall I explain

Whatever may have been the case with others, I certainly cannot
attribute this persecution to personal dislike, or to envy, or to
feelings of vindictive animosity. Not to the former, for with the
exception of a very few who are my intimate friends, and were so
before they were known as authors, I have had little other
acquaintance with literary characters, than what may be implied in an
accidental introduction, or casual meeting in a mixed company. And as
far as words and looks can be trusted, I must believe that, even in
these instances, I had excited no unfriendly disposition. Neither by
letter, nor in conversation, have I ever had dispute or controversy
beyond the common social interchange of opinions. Nay, where I had
reason to suppose my convictions fundamentally different, it has been
my habit, and I may add, the impulse of my nature, to assign the
grounds of my belief, rather than the belief itself; and not to
express dissent, till I could establish some points of complete
sympathy, some grounds common to both sides, from which to commence
its explanation.

Still less can I place these attacks to the charge of envy. The few
pages which I have published, are of too distant a date, and the
extent of their sale a proof too conclusive against their having been
popular at any time, to render probable, I had almost said possible,
the excitement of envy on their account; and the man who should envy
me on any other, verily he must be envy-mad!

Lastly, with as little semblance of reason, could I suspect any
animosity towards me from vindictive feelings as the cause. I have
before said, that my acquaintance with literary men has been limited
and distant; and that I have had neither dispute nor controversy. From
my first entrance into life, I have, with few and short intervals,
lived either abroad or in retirement. My different essays on subjects
of national interest, published at different times, first in the
Morning Post and then in the Courier, with my courses of Lectures on
the principles of criticism as applied to Shakespeare and Milton,
constitute my whole publicity; the only occasions on which I could
offend any member of the republic of letters. With one solitary
exception in which my words were first misstated and then wantonly
applied to an individual, I could never learn that I had excited the
displeasure of any among my literary contemporaries. Having announced
my intention to give a course of Lectures on the characteristic merits
and defects of English poetry in its different aeras; first, from
Chaucer to Milton; second, from Dryden inclusively to Thomson; and
third, from Cowper to the present day; I changed my plan, and confined
my disquisition to the former two periods, that I might furnish no
possible pretext for the unthinking to misconstrue, or the malignant
to misapply my words, and having stamped their own meaning on them, to
pass them as current coin in the marts of garrulity or detraction.

Praises of the unworthy are felt by ardent minds as robberies of the
deserving; and it is too true, and too frequent, that Bacon,
Harrington, Machiavel, and Spinoza, are not read, because Hume,
Condillac, and Voltaire are. But in promiscuous company no prudent man
will oppugn the merits of a contemporary in his own supposed
department; contenting himself with praising in his turn those whom he
deems excellent. If I should ever deem it my duty at all to oppose the
pretensions of individuals, I would oppose them in books which could
be weighed and answered, in which I could evolve the whole of my
reasons and feelings, with their requisite limits and modifications;
not in irrecoverable conversation, where however strong the reasons
might be, the feelings that prompted them would assuredly be
attributed by some one or other to envy and discontent. Besides I well
know, and, I trust, have acted on that knowledge, that it must be the
ignorant and injudicious who extol the unworthy; and the eulogies of
critics without taste or judgment are the natural reward of authors
without feeling or genius. Sint unicuique sua praemia.

How then, dismissing, as I do, these three causes, am I to account for
attacks, the long continuance and inveteracy of which it would require
all three to explain? The solution seems to be this,--I was in habits
of intimacy with Mr. Wordsworth and Mr. Southey! This, however,
transfers, rather than removes the difficulty. Be it, that, by an
unconscionable extension of the old adage, noscitur a socio, my
literary friends are never under the water-fall of criticism, but I
must be wet through with the spray; yet how came the torrent to
descend upon them?

First then, with regard to Mr. Southey. I well remember the general
reception of his earlier publications; namely, the poems published
with Mr. Lovell under the names of Moschus and Bion; the two volumes
of poems under his own name, and the Joan of Arc. The censures of the
critics by profession are extant, and may be easily referred to:--
careless lines, inequality in the merit of the different poems, and
(in the lighter works) a predilection for the strange and whimsical;
in short, such faults as might have been anticipated in a young and
rapid writer, were indeed sufficiently enforced. Nor was there at that
time wanting a party spirit to aggravate the defects of a poet, who
with all the courage of uncorrupted youth had avowed his zeal for a
cause, which he deemed that of liberty, and his abhorrence of
oppression by whatever name consecrated. But it was as little objected
by others, as dreamed of by the poet himself, that he preferred
careless and prosaic lines on rule and of forethought, or indeed that
he pretended to any other art or theory of poetic diction, except that
which we may all learn from Horace, Quinctilian, the admirable
dialogue, De Oratoribus, generally attributed to Tacitus, or Strada's
Prolusions; if indeed natural good sense and the early study of the
best models in his own language had not infused the same maxims more
securely, and, if I may venture the expression, more vitally. All that
could have been fairly deduced was, that in his taste and estimation
of writers Mr. Southey agreed far more with Thomas Warton, than with
Dr. Johnson. Nor do I mean to deny, that at all times Mr. Southey was
of the same mind with Sir Philip Sidney in preferring an excellent
ballad in the humblest style of poetry to twenty indifferent poems
that strutted in the highest. And by what have his works, published
since then, been characterized, each more strikingly than the
preceding, but by greater splendour, a deeper pathos, profounder
reflections, and a more sustained dignity of language and of metre?
Distant may the period be, but whenever the time shall come, when all
his works shall be collected by some editor worthy to be his
biographer, I trust that an appendix of excerpta of all the passages,
in which his writings, name, and character have been attacked, from
the pamphlets and periodical works of the last twenty years, may be an
accompaniment. Yet that it would prove medicinal in after times I dare
not hope; for as long as there are readers to be delighted with
calumny, there will be found reviewers to calumniate. And such readers
will become in all probability more numerous, in proportion as a still
greater diffusion of literature shall produce an increase of
sciolists, and sciolism bring with it petulance and presumption. In
times of old, books were as religious oracles; as literature advanced,
they next became venerable preceptors; they then descended to the rank
of instructive friends; and, as their numbers increased, they sank
still lower to that of entertaining companions; and at present they
seem degraded into culprits to hold up their hands at the bar of every
self-elected, yet not the less peremptory, judge, who chooses to write
from humour or interest, from enmity or arrogance, and to abide the
decision "of him that reads in malice, or him that reads after

The same retrograde movement may be traced, in the relation which the
authors themselves have assumed towards their readers. From the lofty
address of Bacon: "these are the meditations of Francis of Verulam,
which that posterity should be possessed of, he deemed their
interest:" or from dedication to Monarch or Pontiff, in which the
honour given was asserted in equipoise to the patronage acknowledged:
from Pindar's

------'ep' alloi-
-si d'alloi megaloi: to d'eschaton kory-
phoutai basilensi. Maeketi
paptaine porsion.
Eiae se te touton
upsou chronon patein, eme
te tossade nikaphorois
omilein, prophanton sophian kath' El-
lanas eonta panta.--OLYMP. OD. I.

there was a gradual sinking in the etiquette or allowed style of

Poets and Philosophers, rendered diffident by their very number,
addressed themselves to "learned readers;" then aimed to conciliate
the graces of "the candid reader;" till, the critic still rising as
the author sank, the amateurs of literature collectively were erected
into a municipality of judges, and addressed as the Town! And now,
finally, all men being supposed able to read, and all readers able to
judge, the multitudinous Public, shaped into personal unity by the
magic of abstraction, sits nominal despot on the throne of criticism.
But, alas! as in other despotisms, it but echoes the decisions of its
invisible ministers, whose intellectual claims to the guardianship of
the Muses seem, for the greater part, analogous to the physical
qualifications which adapt their oriental brethren for the
superintendence of the Harem. Thus it is said, that St. Nepomuc was
installed the guardian of bridges, because he had fallen over one, and
sunk out of sight; thus too St. Cecilia is said to have been first
propitiated by musicians, because, having failed in her own attempts,
she had taken a dislike to the art and all its successful professors.
But I shall probably have occasion hereafter to deliver my convictions
more at large concerning this state of things, and its influences on
taste, genius and morality.

In the Thalaba, the Madoc, and still more evidently in the unique [16]
Cid, in the Kehama, and, as last, so best, the Roderick; Southey has
given abundant proof, se cogitare quam sit magnum dare aliquid in
manus hominum: nec persuadere sibi posse, non saepe tractandum quod
placere et semper et omnibus cupiat. But on the other hand, I
conceive, that Mr. Southey was quite unable to comprehend, wherein
could consist the crime or mischief of printing half a dozen or more
playful poems; or to speak more generally, compositions which would be
enjoyed or passed over, according as the taste and humour of the
reader might chance to be; provided they contained nothing immoral. In
the present age periturae parcere chartae is emphatically an
unreasonable demand. The merest trifle he ever sent abroad had tenfold
better claims to its ink and paper than all the silly criticisms on
it, which proved no more than that the critic was not one of those,
for whom the trifle was written; and than all the grave exhortations
to a greater reverence for the public--as if the passive page of a
book, by having an epigram or doggerel tale impressed on it, instantly
assumed at once loco-motive power and a sort of ubiquity, so as to
flutter and buz in the ear of the public to the sore annoyance of the
said mysterious personage. But what gives an additional and more
ludicrous absurdity to these lamentations is the curious fact, that if
in a volume of poetry the critic should find poem or passage which he
deems more especially worthless, he is sure to select and reprint it
in the review; by which, on his own grounds, he wastes as much more
paper than the author, as the copies of a fashionable review are more
numerous than those of the original book; in some, and those the most
prominent instances, as ten thousand to five hundred. I know nothing
that surpasses the vileness of deciding on the merits of a poet or
painter,--(not by characteristic defects; for where there is genius,
these always point to his characteristic beauties; but)--by accidental
failures or faulty passages; except the impudence of defending it, as
the proper duty, and most instructive part, of criticism. Omit or pass
slightly over the expression, grace, and grouping of Raffael's
figures; but ridicule in detail the knitting-needles and broom-twigs,
that are to represent trees in his back grounds; and never let him
hear the last of his galli-pots! Admit that the Allegro and Penseroso
of Milton are not without merit; but repay yourself for this
concession, by reprinting at length the two poems on the University
Carrier! As a fair specimen of his Sonnets, quote

"A Book was writ of late called Tetrachordon;"

and, as characteristic of his rhythm and metre, cite his literal
translation of the first and second Psalm! In order to justify
yourself, you need only assert, that had you dwelt chiefly on the
beauties and excellencies of the poet, the admiration of these might
seduce the attention of future writers from the objects of their love
and wonder, to an imitation of the few poems and passages in which the
poet was most unlike himself.

But till reviews are conducted on far other principles, and with far
other motives; till in the place of arbitrary dictation and petulant
sneers, the reviewers support their decisions by reference to fixed
canons of criticism, previously established and deduced from the
nature of man; reflecting minds will pronounce it arrogance in them
thus to announce themselves to men of letters, as the guides of their
taste and judgment. To the purchaser and mere reader it is, at all
events, an injustice. He who tells me that there are defects in a new
work, tells me nothing which I should not have taken for granted
without his information. But he, who points out and elucidates the
beauties of an original work does indeed give me interesting
information, such as experience would not have authorized me in
anticipating. And as to compositions which the authors themselves
announce with

Haec ipsi novimus esse nihil,

why should we judge by a different rule two printed works, only
because the one author is alive, and the other in his grave? What
literary man has not regretted the prudery of Spratt in refusing to
let his friend Cowley appear in his slippers and dressing gown? I am
not perhaps the only one who has derived an innocent amusement from
the riddles, conundrums, tri-syllable lines, and the like, of Swift
and his correspondents, in hours of languor, when to have read his
more finished works would have been useless to myself, and, in some
sort, an act of injustice to the author. But I am at a loss to
conceive by what perversity of judgment, these relaxations of his
genius could be employed to diminish his fame as the writer of
Gulliver, or the Tale of a Tub. Had Mr. Southey written twice as many
poems of inferior merit, or partial interest, as have enlivened the
journals of the day, they would have added to his honour with good and
wise men, not merely or principally as proving the versatility of his
talents, but as evidences of the purity of that mind, which even in
its levities never dictated a line which it need regret on any moral

I have in imagination transferred to the future biographer the duty of
contrasting Southey's fixed and well-earned fame, with the abuse and
indefatigable hostility of his anonymous critics from his early youth
to his ripest manhood. But I cannot think so ill of human nature as
not to believe, that these critics have already taken shame to
themselves, whether they consider the object of their abuse in his
moral or his literary character. For reflect but on the variety and
extent of his acquirements! He stands second to no man, either as an
historian or as a bibliographer; and when I regard him as a popular
essayist,--(for the articles of his compositions in the reviews are,
for the greater part, essays on subjects of deep or curious interest
rather than criticisms on particular works)--I look in vain for any
writer, who has conveyed so much information, from so many and such
recondite sources, with so many just and original reflections, in a
style so lively and poignant, yet so uniformly classical and
perspicuous; no one, in short, who has combined so much wisdom with so
much wit; so much truth and knowledge with so much life and fancy. His
prose is always intelligible and always entertaining. In poetry he has
attempted almost every species of composition known before, and he has
added new ones; and if we except the highest lyric,--(in which how
few, how very few even of the greatest minds have been fortunate)--he
has attempted every species successfully; from the political song of
the day, thrown off in the playful overflow of honest joy and
patriotic exultation, to the wild ballad; from epistolary ease and
graceful narrative, to austere and impetuous moral declamation; from
the pastoral charms and wild streaming lights of the Thalaba, in which
sentiment and imagery have given permanence even to the excitement of
curiosity; and from the full blaze of the Kehama,--(a gallery of
finished pictures in one splendid fancy piece, in which,
notwithstanding, the moral grandeur rises gradually above the
brilliance of the colouring and the boldness and novelty of the
machinery)--to the more sober beauties of the Madoc; and lastly, from
the Madoc to his Roderick, in which, retaining all his former
excellencies of a poet eminently inventive and picturesque, he has
surpassed himself in language and metre, in the construction of the
whole, and in the splendour of particular passages.

Here then shall I conclude? No! The characters of the deceased, like
the encomia on tombstones, as they are described with religious
tenderness, so are they read, with allowing sympathy indeed, but yet
with rational deduction. There are men, who deserve a higher record;
men with whose characters it is the interest of their contemporaries,
no less than that of posterity, to be made acquainted; while it is yet
possible for impartial censure, and even for quick-sighted envy, to
cross-examine the tale without offence to the courtesies of humanity;
and while the eulogist, detected in exaggeration or falsehood, must
pay the full penalty of his baseness in the contempt which brands the
convicted flatterer. Publicly has Mr. Southey been reviled by men,
who, as I would fain hope for the honour of human nature, hurled fire-
brands against a figure of their own imagination; publicly have his
talents been depreciated, his principles denounced; as publicly do I
therefore, who have known him intimately, deem it my duty to leave
recorded, that it is Southey's almost unexampled felicity, to possess
the best gifts of talent and genius free from all their characteristic
defects. To those who remember the state of our public schools and
universities some twenty years past, it will appear no ordinary praise
in any man to have passed from innocence into virtue, not only free
from all vicious habit, but unstained by one act of intemperance, or
the degradations akin to intemperance. That scheme of head, heart, and
habitual demeanour, which in his early manhood, and first
controversial writings, Milton, claiming the privilege of self-
defence, asserts of himself, and challenges his calumniators to
disprove; this will his school-mates, his fellow-collegians, and his
maturer friends, with a confidence proportioned to the intimacy of
their knowledge, bear witness to, as again realized in the life of
Robert Southey. But still more striking to those, who by biography or
by their own experience are familiar with the general habits of
genius, will appear the poet's matchless industry and perseverance in
his pursuits; the worthiness and dignity of those pursuits; his
generous submission to tasks of transitory interest, or such as his
genius alone could make otherwise; and that having thus more than
satisfied the claims of affection or prudence, he should yet have made
for himself time and power, to achieve more, and in more various
departments, than almost any other writer has done, though employed
wholly on subjects of his own choice and ambition. But as Southey
possesses, and is not possessed by, his genius, even so is he master
even of his virtues. The regular and methodical tenor of his daily
labours, which would be deemed rare in the most mechanical pursuits,
and might be envied by the mere man of business, loses all semblance
of formality in the dignified simplicity of his manners, in the spring
and healthful cheerfulness of his spirits. Always employed, his
friends find him always at leisure. No less punctual in trifles, than
steadfast in the performance of highest duties, he inflicts none of
those small pains and discomforts which irregular men scatter about
them, and which in the aggregate so often become formidable obstacles
both to happiness and utility; while on the contrary he bestows all
the pleasures, and inspires all that ease of mind on those around him
or connected with him, which perfect consistency, and (if such a word
might be framed) absolute reliability, equally in small as in great
concerns, cannot but inspire and bestow; when this too is softened
without being weakened by kindness and gentleness. I know few men who
so well deserve the character which an antient attributes to Marcus
Cato, namely, that he was likest virtue, in as much as he seemed to
act aright, not in obedience to any law or outward motive, but by the
necessity of a happy nature, which could not act otherwise. As son,
brother, husband, father, master, friend, he moves with firm yet light
steps, alike unostentatious, and alike exemplary. As a writer, he has
uniformly made his talents subservient to the best interests of
humanity, of public virtue, and domestic piety; his cause has ever
been the cause of pure religion and of liberty, of national
independence and of national illumination. When future critics shall
weigh out his guerdon of praise and censure, it will be Southey the
poet only, that will supply them with the scanty materials for the
latter. They will likewise not fail to record, that as no man was ever
a more constant friend, never had poet more friends and honourers
among the good of all parties; and that quacks in education, quacks in
politics, and quacks in criticism were his only enemies. [17]


The Lyrical Ballads with the Preface--Mr. Wordsworth's earlier poems--
On fancy and imagination--The investigation of the distinction
important to the Fine Arts.

I have wandered far from the object in view, but as I fancied to
myself readers who would respect the feelings that had tempted me from
the main road; so I dare calculate on not a few, who will warmly
sympathize with them. At present it will be sufficient for my purpose,
if I have proved, that Mr. Southey's writings no more than my own
furnished the original occasion to this fiction of a new school of
poetry, and to the clamours against its supposed founders and

As little do I believe that Mr. Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads were in
themselves the cause. I speak exclusively of the two volumes so
entitled. A careful and repeated examination of these confirms me in
the belief, that the omission of less than a hundred lines would have
precluded nine-tenths of the criticism on this work. I hazard this
declaration, however, on the supposition, that the reader has taken it
up, as he would have done any other collection of poems purporting to
derive their subjects or interests from the incidents of domestic or
ordinary life, intermingled with higher strains of meditation which
the poet utters in his own person and character; with the proviso,
that these poems were perused without knowledge of, or reference to,
the author's peculiar opinions, and that the reader had not had his
attention previously directed to those peculiarities. In that case, as
actually happened with Mr. Southey's earlier works, the lines and
passages which might have offended the general taste, would have been
considered as mere inequalities, and attributed to inattention, not to
perversity of judgment. The men of business who had passed their lives
chiefly in cities, and who might therefore be expected to derive the
highest pleasure from acute notices of men and manners conveyed in
easy, yet correct and pointed language; and all those who, reading but
little poetry, are most stimulated with that species of it, which
seems most distant from prose, would probably have passed by the
volumes altogether. Others more catholic in their taste, and yet
habituated to be most pleased when most excited, would have contented
themselves with deciding, that the author had been successful in
proportion to the elevation of his style and subject. Not a few,
perhaps, might, by their admiration of the Lines written near Tintern
Abbey, on revisiting the Wye, those Left upon a Yew Tree Seat, The Old
Cumberland Beggar, and Ruth, have been gradually led to peruse with
kindred feeling The Brothers, the Hart-leap Well, and whatever other
poems in that collection may be described as holding a middle place
between those written in the highest and those in the humblest style;
as for instance between the Tintern Abbey, and The Thorn, or Simon
Lee. Should their taste submit to no further change, and still remain
unreconciled to the colloquial phrases, or the imitations of them,
that are, more or less, scattered through the class last mentioned;
yet even from the small number of the latter, they would have deemed
them but an inconsiderable subtraction from the merit of the whole
work; or, what is sometimes not unpleasing in the publication of a new
writer, as serving to ascertain the natural tendency, and consequently
the proper direction of the author's genius.

In the critical remarks, therefore, prefixed and annexed to the
Lyrical Ballads, I believe, we may safely rest, as the true origin of
the unexampled opposition which Mr. Wordsworth's writings have been
since doomed to encounter. The humbler passages in the poems
themselves were dwelt on and cited to justify the rejection of the
theory. What in and for themselves would have been either forgotten or
forgiven as imperfections, or at least comparative failures, provoked
direct hostility when announced as intentional, as the result of
choice after full deliberation. Thus the poems, admitted by all as
excellent, joined with those which had pleased the far greater number,
though they formed two-thirds of the whole work, instead of being
deemed (as in all right they should have been, even if we take for
granted that the reader judged aright) an atonement for the few
exceptions, gave wind and fuel to the animosity against both the poems
and the poet. In all perplexity there is a portion of fear, which
predisposes the mind to anger. Not able to deny that the author
possessed both genius and a powerful intellect, they felt very
positive,--but yet were not quite certain that he might not be in the
right, and they themselves in the wrong; an unquiet state of mind,
which seeks alleviation by quarrelling with the occasion of it, and by
wondering at the perverseness of the man, who had written a long and
argumentative essay to persuade them, that

Fair is foul, and foul is fair;

in other words, that they had been all their lives admiring without
judgment, and were now about to censure without reason. [18]

That this conjecture is not wide from the mark, I am induced to
believe from the noticeable fact, which I can state on my own
knowledge, that the same general censure has been grounded by almost
every different person on some different poem. Among those, whose
candour and judgment I estimate highly, I distinctly remember six who
expressed their objections to the Lyrical Ballads almost in the same
words, and altogether to the same purport, at the same time admitting,
that several of the poems had given them great pleasure; and, strange
as it might seem, the composition which one cited as execrable,
another quoted as his favourite. I am indeed convinced in my own mind,
that could the same experiment have been tried with these volumes, as
was made in the well known story of the picture, the result would have
been the same; the parts which had been covered by black spots on the
one day, would be found equally albo lapide notatae on the succeeding.

However this may be, it was assuredly hard and unjust to fix the
attention on a few separate and insulated poems with as much aversion,
as if they had been so many plague-spots on the whole work, instead of
passing them over in silence, as so much blank paper, or leaves of a
bookseller's catalogue; especially, as no one pretended to have found
in them any immorality or indelicacy; and the poems, therefore, at the
worst, could only be regarded as so many light or inferior coins in a
rouleau of gold, not as so much alloy in a weight of bullion. A friend
whose talents I hold in the highest respect, but whose judgment and
strong sound sense I have had almost continued occasion to revere,
making the usual complaints to me concerning both the style and
subjects of Mr. Wordsworth's minor poems; I admitted that there were
some few of the tales and incidents, in which I could not myself find
a sufficient cause for their having been recorded in metre. I
mentioned Alice Fell as an instance; "Nay," replied my friend with
more than usual quickness of manner, "I cannot agree with you there!--
that, I own, does seem to me a remarkably pleasing poem." In the
Lyrical Ballads, (for my experience does not enable me to extend the
remark equally unqualified to the two subsequent volumes,) I have
heard at different times, and from different individuals, every single
poem extolled and reprobated, with the exception of those of loftier
kind, which as was before observed, seem to have won universal praise.
This fact of itself would have made me diffident in my censures, had
not a still stronger ground been furnished by the strange contrast of
the heat and long continuance of the opposition, with the nature of
the faults stated as justifying it. The seductive faults, the dulcia
vitia of Cowley, Marine, or Darwin might reasonably be thought capable
of corrupting the public judgment for half a century, and require a
twenty years war, campaign after campaign, in order to dethrone the
usurper and re-establish the legitimate taste. But that a downright
simpleness, under the affectation of simplicity, prosaic words in
feeble metre, silly thoughts in childish phrases, and a preference of
mean, degrading, or at best trivial associations and characters,
should succeed in forming a school of imitators, a company of almost
religious admirers, and this too among young men of ardent minds,
liberal education, and not

------with academic laurels unbestowed;

and that this bare and bald counterfeit of poetry, which is
characterized as below criticism, should for nearly twenty years have
well-nigh engrossed criticism, as the main, if not the only, butt of
review, magazine, pamphlet, poem, and paragraph; this is indeed matter
of wonder. Of yet greater is it, that the contest should still
continue as undecided as [19] that between Bacchus and the frogs in
Aristophanes; when the former descended to the realms of the departed
to bring back the spirit of old and genuine poesy;--

CH. Brekekekex, koax, koax.
D. All' exoloisth' auto koax.
Ouden gar est' all', hae koax.
Oimozet' ou gar moi melei.
CH. Alla maen kekraxomestha
g', oposon hae pharynx an haemon
chandanae di' haemeras,
brekekekex, koax, koax!
D. Touto gar ou nikaesete.
CH. Oude men haemas su pantos.
D. Oude maen humeis ge dae m'
oudepote. Kekraxomai gar,
kan me deae, di' haemeras,
eos an humon epikrataeso tou koax!
CH. Brekekekex, KO'AX, KOAX!

During the last year of my residence at Cambridge, 1794, I became
acquainted with Mr. Wordsworth's first publication entitled
Descriptive Sketches; and seldom, if ever, was the emergence of an
original poetic genius above the literary horizon more evidently
announced. In the form, style, and manner of the whole poem, and in
the structure of the particular lines and periods, there is a
harshness and acerbity connected and combined with words and images
all a-glow, which might recall those products of the vegetable world,
where gorgeous blossoms rise out of a hard and thorny rind and shell,
within which the rich fruit is elaborating. The language is not only
peculiar and strong, but at times knotty and contorted, as by its own
impatient strength; while the novelty and struggling crowd of images,
acting in conjunction with the difficulties of the style, demands
always a greater closeness of attention, than poetry,--at all events,
than descriptive poetry--has a right to claim. It not seldom therefore
justified the complaint of obscurity. In the following extract I have
sometimes fancied, that I saw an emblem of the poem itself, and of the
author's genius as it was then displayed.--

'Tis storm; and hid in mist from hour to hour,
All day the floods a deepening murmur pour;
The sky is veiled, and every cheerful sight
Dark is the region as with coming night;
Yet what a sudden burst of overpowering light!
Triumphant on the bosom of the storm,
Glances the fire-clad eagle's wheeling form;
Eastward, in long perspective glittering, shine
The wood-crowned cliffs that o'er the lake recline;
Those Eastern cliffs a hundred streams unfold,
At once to pillars turned that flame with gold;
Behind his sail the peasant strives to shun
The west, that burns like one dilated sun,
Where in a mighty crucible expire
The mountains, glowing hot, like coals of fire.

The poetic Psyche, in its process to full development, undergoes as
many changes as its Greek namesake, the butterfly [20]. And it is
remarkable how soon genius clears and purifies itself from the faults
and errors of its earliest products; faults which, in its earliest
compositions, are the more obtrusive and confluent, because as
heterogeneous elements, which had only a temporary use, they
constitute the very ferment, by which themselves are carried off. Or
we may compare them to some diseases, which must work on the humours,
and be thrown out on the surface, in order to secure the patient from
their future recurrence. I was in my twenty-fourth year, when I had
the happiness of knowing Mr. Wordsworth personally, and while memory
lasts, I shall hardly forget the sudden effect produced on my mind, by
his recitation of a manuscript poem, which still remains unpublished,
but of which the stanza and tone of style were the same as those of
The Female Vagrant, as originally printed in the first volume of the
Lyrical Ballads. There was here no mark of strained thought, or forced
diction, no crowd or turbulence of imagery; and, as the poet hath
himself well described in his Lines on revisiting the Wye, manly
reflection and human associations had given both variety, and an
additional interest to natural objects, which, in the passion and
appetite of the first love, they had seemed to him neither to need nor
permit. The occasional obscurities, which had risen from an imperfect
control over the resources of his native language, had almost wholly
disappeared, together with that worse defect of arbitrary and
illogical phrases, at once hackneyed and fantastic, which hold so
distinguished a place in the technique of ordinary poetry, and will,
more or less, alloy the earlier poems of the truest genius, unless the
attention has been specially directed to their worthlessness and
incongruity [21]. I did not perceive anything particular in the mere
style of the poem alluded to during its recitation, except indeed such
difference as was not separable from the thought and manner; and the
Spenserian stanza, which always, more or less, recalls to the reader's
mind Spenser's own style, would doubtless have authorized, in my then
opinion, a more frequent descent to the phrases of ordinary life, than
could without an ill effect have been hazarded in the heroic couplet.
It was not however the freedom from false taste, whether as to common
defects, or to those more properly his own, which made so unusual an
impression on my feelings immediately, and subsequently on my
judgment. It was the union of deep feeling with profound thought; the
fine balance of truth in observing, with the imaginative faculty in
modifying, the objects observed; and above all the original gift of
spreading the tone, the atmosphere, and with it the depth and height
of the ideal world around forms, incidents, and situations, of which,
for the common view, custom had bedimmed all the lustre, had dried up
the sparkle and the dew drops.

This excellence, which in all Mr. Wordsworth's writings is more or
less predominant, and which constitutes the character of his mind, I
no sooner felt, than I sought to understand. Repeated meditations led
me first to suspect,--(and a more intimate analysis of the human
faculties, their appropriate marks, functions, and effects matured my
conjecture into full conviction,)--that Fancy and Imagination were two
distinct and widely different faculties, instead of being, according
to the general belief, either two names with one meaning, or, at
furthest, the lower and higher degree of one and the same power. It is
not, I own, easy to conceive a more apposite translation of the Greek
phantasia than the Latin imaginatio; but it is equally true that in
all societies there exists an instinct of growth, a certain
collective, unconscious good sense working progressively to
desynonymize [22] those words originally of the same meaning, which
the conflux of dialects supplied to the more homogeneous languages, as
the Greek and German: and which the same cause, joined with accidents
of translation from original works of different countries, occasion in
mixed languages like our own. The first and most important point to be
proved is, that two conceptions perfectly distinct are confused under
one and the same word, and--this done--to appropriate that word
exclusively to the one meaning, and the synonyme, should there be one,
to the other. But if,--(as will be often the case in the arts and
sciences,)--no synonyme exists, we must either invent or borrow a
word. In the present instance the appropriation has already begun, and
been legitimated in the derivative adjective: Milton had a highly
imaginative, Cowley a very fanciful mind. If therefore I should
succeed in establishing the actual existence of two faculties
generally different, the nomenclature would be at once determined. To
the faculty by which I had characterized Milton, we should confine the
term 'imagination;' while the other would be contra-distinguished as
'fancy.' Now were it once fully ascertained, that this division is no
less grounded in nature than that of delirium from mania, or Otway's

Lutes, laurels, seas of milk, and ships of amber,

from Shakespeare's

What! have his daughters brought him to this pass?

or from the preceding apostrophe to the elements; the theory of the
fine arts, and of poetry in particular, could not but derive some
additional and important light. It would in its immediate effects
furnish a torch of guidance to the philosophical critic; and
ultimately to the poet himself. In energetic minds, truth soon changes
by domestication into power; and from directing in the discrimination
and appraisal of the product, becomes influencive in the production.
To admire on principle, is the only way to imitate without loss of

It has been already hinted, that metaphysics and psychology have long
been my hobby-horse. But to have a hobby-horse, and to be vain of it,
are so commonly found together, that they pass almost for the same. I
trust therefore, that there will be more good humour than contempt, in
the smile with which the reader chastises my self-complacency, if I
confess myself uncertain, whether the satisfaction from the perception
of a truth new to myself may not have been rendered more poignant by
the conceit, that it would be equally so to the public. There was a
time, certainly, in which I took some little credit to myself, in the
belief that I had been the first of my countrymen, who had pointed out
the diverse meaning of which the two terms were capable, and analyzed
the faculties to which they should be appropriated. Mr. W. Taylor's
recent volume of synonymes I have not yet seen [23]; but his
specification of the terms in question has been clearly shown to be
both insufficient and erroneous by Mr. Wordsworth in the Preface added
to the late collection of his Poems. The explanation which Mr.
Wordsworth has himself given, will be found to differ from mine,
chiefly, perhaps as our objects are different. It could scarcely
indeed happen otherwise, from the advantage I have enjoyed of frequent
conversation with him on a subject to which a poem of his own first
directed my attention, and my conclusions concerning which he had made
more lucid to myself by many happy instances drawn from the operation
of natural objects on the mind. But it was Mr. Wordsworth's purpose to
consider the influences of fancy and imagination as they are
manifested in poetry, and from the different effects to conclude their
diversity in kind; while it is my object to investigate the seminal
principle, and then from the kind to deduce the degree. My friend has
drawn a masterly sketch of the branches with their poetic fruitage. I
wish to add the trunk, and even the roots as far as they lift
themselves above ground, and are visible to the naked eye of our
common consciousness.

Yet even in this attempt I am aware that I shall be obliged to draw
more largely on the reader's attention, than so immethodical a
miscellany as this can authorize; when in such a work (the
Ecclesiasical Polity) of such a mind as Hooker's, the judicious
author, though no less admirable for the perspicuity than for the port
and dignity of his language,--and though he wrote for men of learning
in a learned age,--saw nevertheless occasion to anticipate and guard
against "complaints of obscurity," as often as he was to trace his
subject "to the highest well-spring and fountain." Which, (continues
he) "because men are not accustomed to, the pains we take are more
needful a great deal, than acceptable; and the matters we handle, seem
by reason of newness (till the mind grow better acquainted with them)
dark and intricate." I would gladly therefore spare both myself and
others this labour, if I knew how without it to present an
intelligible statement of my poetic creed,--not as my opinions, which
weigh for nothing, but as deductions from established premises
conveyed in such a form, as is calculated either to effect a
fundamental conviction, or to receive a fundamental confutation. If I
may dare once more adopt the words of Hooker, "they, unto whom we
shall seem tedious, are in no wise injured by us, because it is in
their own hands to spare that labour, which they are not willing to
endure." Those at least, let me be permitted to add, who have taken so
much pains to render me ridiculous for a perversion of taste, and have
supported the charge by attributing strange notions to me on no other
authority than their own conjectures, owe it to themselves as well as
to me not to refuse their attention to my own statement of the theory
which I do acknowledge; or shrink from the trouble of examining the
grounds on which I rest it, or the arguments which I offer in its


On the law of Association--Its history traced from Aristotle to

There have been men in all ages, who have been impelled as by an
instinct to propose their own nature as a problem, and who devote
their attempts to its solution. The first step was to construct a
table of distinctions, which they seem to have formed on the principle
of the absence or presence of the Will. Our various sensations,
perceptions, and movements were classed as active or passive, or as
media partaking of both. A still finer distinction was soon
established between the voluntary and the spontaneous. In our
perceptions we seem to ourselves merely passive to an external power,
whether as a mirror reflecting the landscape, or as a blank canvass on
which some unknown hand paints it. For it is worthy of notice, that
the latter, or the system of Idealism may be traced to sources equally
remote with the former, or Materialism; and Berkeley can boast an
ancestry at least as venerable as Gassendi or Hobbes. These
conjectures, however, concerning the mode in which our perceptions
originated, could not alter the natural difference of Things and
Thoughts. In the former, the cause appeared wholly external, while in
the latter, sometimes our will interfered as the producing or
determining cause, and sometimes our nature seemed to act by a
mechanism of its own, without any conscious effort of the will, or
even against it. Our inward experiences were thus arranged in three
separate classes, the passive sense, or what the School-men call the
merely receptive quality of the mind; the voluntary; and the
spontaneous, which holds the middle place between both. But it is not
in human nature to meditate on any mode of action, without inquiring
after the law that governs it; and in the explanation of the
spontaneous movements of our being, the metaphysician took the lead of
the anatomist and natural philosopher. In Egypt, Palestine, Greece,
and India the analysis of the mind had reached its noon and manhood,
while experimental research was still in its dawn and infancy. For
many, very many centuries, it has been difficult to advance a new
truth, or even a new error, in the philosophy of the intellect or
morals. With regard, however, to the laws that direct the spontaneous
movements of thought and the principle of their intellectual mechanism
there exists, it has been asserted, an important exception most
honourable to the moderns, and in the merit of which our own country
claims the largest share. Sir James Mackintosh,--(who, amid the
variety of his talents and attainments, is not of less repute for the
depth and accuracy of his philosophical inquiries than for the
eloquence with which he is said to render their most difficult results
perspicuous, and the driest attractive,)--affirmed in the Lectures,
delivered by him in Lincoln's Inn Hall, that the law of association as
established in the contemporaneity of the original impressions, formed
the basis of all true psychology; and that any ontological or
metaphysical science, not contained in such (that is, an empirical)
psychology, was but a web of abstractions and generalizations. Of this
prolific truth, of this great fundamental law, he declared Hobbes to
have been the original discoverer, while its full application to the
whole intellectual system we owed to Hartley; who stood in the same
relation to Hobbes as Newton to Kepler; the law of association being
that to the mind, which gravitation is to matter.

Of the former clause in this assertion, as it respects the comparative
merits of the ancient metaphysicians, including their commentators,
the School-men, and of the modern and British and French philosophers
from Hobbes to Hume, Hartley, and Condillac, this is not the place to
speak. So wide indeed is the chasm between Sir James Mackintosh's
philosophical creed and mine, that so far from being able to join
hands, we could scarcely make our voices intelligible to each other:
and to bridge it over would require more time, skill, and power than I
believe myself to possess. But the latter clause involves for the
greater part a mere question of fact and history, and the accuracy of
the statement is to be tried by documents rather than reasoning.

First, then, I deny Hobbes's claim in toto: for he had been
anticipated by Des Cartes, whose work De Methodo, preceded Hobbes's De
Natura Humana, by more than a year. But what is of much more
importance, Hobbes builds nothing on the principle which he had
announced. He does not even announce it, as differing in any respect
from the general laws of material motion and impact: nor was it,
indeed, possible for him so to do, compatibly with his system, which
was exclusively material and mechanical. Far otherwise is it with Des
Cartes; greatly as he too in his after writings (and still more
egregiously his followers De la Forge, and others) obscured the truth
by their attempts to explain it on the theory of nervous fluids, and
material configurations. But, in his interesting work, De Methodo, Des
Cartes relates the circumstance which first led him to meditate on
this subject, and which since then has been often noticed and employed
as an instance and illustration of the law. A child who with its eyes
bandaged had lost several of his fingers by amputation, continued to
complain for many days successively of pains, now in this joint and
now in that, of the very fingers which had been cut off. Des Cartes
was led by this incident to reflect on the uncertainty with which we
attribute any particular place to any inward pain or uneasiness, and
proceeded after long consideration to establish it as a general law:
that contemporaneous impressions, whether images or sensations, recall
each other mechanically. On this principle, as a ground work, he built
up the whole system of human language, as one continued process of
association. He showed in what sense not only general terms, but
generic images,--under the name of abstract ideas,--actually existed,
and in what consist their nature and power. As one word may become the
general exponent of many, so by association a simple image may
represent a whole class. But in truth Hobbes himself makes no claims
to any discovery, and introduces this law of association, or (in his
own language) discursion of mind, as an admitted fact, in the solution
alone of which, and this by causes purely physiological, he arrogates
any originality. His system is briefly this; whenever the senses are
impinged on by external objects, whether by the rays of light
reflected from them, or by effluxes of their finer particles, there
results a correspondent motion of the innermost and subtlest organs.
This motion constitutes a representation, and there remains an
impression of the same, or a certain disposition to repeat the same
motion. Whenever we feel several objects at the same time, the
impressions that are left, (or in the language of Mr. Hume, the
ideas,) are linked together. Whenever therefore any one of the
movements, which constitute a complex impression, is renewed through
the senses, the others succeed mechanically. It follows of necessity,
therefore, that Hobbes, as well as Hartley and all others who derive
association from the connection and interdependence of the supposed
matter, the movements of which constitute our thoughts, must have
reduced all its forms to the one law of Time. But even the merit of
announcing this law with philosophic precision cannot be fairly
conceded to him. For the objects of any two ideas need not have co-
existed in the same sensation in order to become mutually associable.
The same result will follow when one only of the two ideas has been
represented by the senses, and the other by the memory.

Long however before either Hobbes or Des Cartes the law of association
had been defined, and its important functions set forth by Ludovicus
Vives. Phantasia, it is to be noticed, is employed by Vives to express
the mental power of comprehension, or the active function of the mind;
and imaginatio for the receptivity (via receptiva) of impressions, or
for the passive perception. The power of combination he appropriates
to the former: "quae singula et simpliciter acceperat imaginatio, ea
conjungit et disjungait phantasia." And the law by which the thoughts
are spontaneously presented follows thus: "quae simul sunt a phantasia
comprehensa, si alterutrum occurrat, solet secum alterum
representare." To time therefore he subordinates all the other
exciting causes of association. The soul proceeds "a causa ad
effectum, ab hoc ad instrumentum, a parte ad totum;" thence to the
place, from place to person, and from this to whatever preceded or
followed, all as being parts of a total impression, each of which may
recall the other. The apparent springs "saltus vel transitus etiam
longissimos," he explains by the same thought having been a component
part of two or more total impressions. Thus "ex Scipione venio in
cogitationem potentiae Turcicae, propter victorias ejus de Asia, in
qua regnabat Antiochus."

But from Vives I pass at once to the source of his doctrines, and (as
far as we can judge from the remains yet extant of Greek philosophy)
as to the first, so to the fullest and most perfect enunciation of the
associative principle, namely, to the writings of Aristotle; and of
these in particular to the treatises De Anima, and "De Memoria," which
last belongs to the series of essays entitled in the old translations
Parva Naturalia. In as much as later writers have either deviated
from, or added to his doctrines, they appear to me to have introduced
either error or groundless supposition.

In the first place it is to be observed, that Aristotle's positions on
this subject are unmixed with fiction. The wise Stagyrite speaks of no
successive particles propagating motion like billiard balls, as
Hobbes; nor of nervous or animal spirits, where inanimate and
irrational solids are thawed down, and distilled, or filtrated by
ascension, into living and intelligent fluids, that etch and re-etch
engravings on the brain, as the followers of Des Cartes, and the
humoral pathologists in general; nor of an oscillating ether which was
to effect the same service for the nerves of the brain considered as
solid fibres, as the animal spirits perform for them under the notion
of hollow tubes, as Hartley teaches--nor finally, (with yet more
recent dreamers) of chemical compositions by elective affinity, or of
an electric light at once the immediate object and the ultimate organ
of inward vision, which rises to the brain like an Aurora Borealis,
and there, disporting in various shapes,--as the balance of plus and
minus, or negative and positive, is destroyed or re-established,--
images out both past and present. Aristotle delivers a just theory
without pretending to an hypothesis; or in other words a comprehensive
survey of the different facts, and of their relations to each other
without supposition, that is, a fact placed under a number of facts,
as their common support and explanation; though in the majority of
instances these hypotheses or suppositions better deserve the name of
upopoiaeseis, or suffictions. He uses indeed the word kinaeseis, to
express what we call representations or ideas, but he carefully
distinguishes them from material motion, designating the latter always
by annexing the words en topo, or kata topon. On the contrary, in his
treatise De Anima, he excludes place and motion from all the
operations of thought, whether representations or volitions, as
attributes utterly and absurdly heterogeneous.

The general law of association, or, more accurately, the common
condition under which all exciting causes act, and in which they may
be generalized, according to Aristotle is this. Ideas by having been
together acquire a power of recalling each other; or every partial
representation awakes the total representation of which it had been a
part. In the practical determination of this common principle to
particular recollections, he admits five agents or occasioning causes:
first, connection in time, whether simultaneous, preceding, or
successive; second, vicinity or connection in space; third,
interdependence or necessary connection, as cause and effect; fourth,
likeness; and fifth, contrast. As an additional solution of the
occasional seeming chasms in the continuity of reproduction he proves,
that movements or ideas possessing one or the other of these five
characters had passed through the mind as intermediate links,
sufficiently clear to recall other parts of the same total impressions
with which they had co-existed, though not vivid enough to excite that
degree of attention which is requisite for distinct recollection, or
as we may aptly express it, after consciousness. In association then
consists the whole mechanism of the reproduction of impressions, in
the Aristotelian Psychology. It is the universal law of the passive
fancy and mechanical memory; that which supplies to all other
faculties their objects, to all thought the elements of its materials.

In consulting the excellent commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas on the
Parva Naturalia of Aristotle, I was struck at once with its close
resemblance to Hume's Essay on Association. The main thoughts were the
same in both, the order of the thoughts was the same, and even the
illustrations differed only by Hume's occasional substitution of more
modern examples. I mentioned the circumstance to several of my
literary acquaintances, who admitted the closeness of the resemblance,
and that it seemed too great to be explained by mere coincidence; but
they thought it improbable that Hume should have held the pages of the
Angelic Doctor worth turning over. But some time after Mr. Payne
showed Sir James Mackintosh some odd volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas,
partly perhaps from having heard that he had in his Lectures passed a
high encomium on this canonized philosopher; but chiefly from the
fact, that the volumes had belonged to Mr. Hume, and had here and
there marginal marks and notes of reference in his own hand writing.
Among these volumes was that which contains the Parva Naturalia, in
the old Latin version, swathed and swaddled in the commentary afore

It remains then for me, first to state wherein Hartley differs from
Aristotle; then, to exhibit the grounds of my conviction, that he
differed only to err: and next as the result, to show, by what
influences of the choice and judgment the associative power becomes


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