Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books
Charles W. Eliot

Part 6 out of 9

starting from this important point and in returning to it often, we
shall find others about which something falls to be said.

One of the principal signs of the decay of art is the mixture of its
various kinds. The arts themselves, as well as their branches, are
related to one another, and have a certain tendency to unite, even to
lose themselves in one another; but it is in this that the duty, the
merit, the dignity of the real artist consists, namely, in being able
to separate the field of art in which he works from others, in placing
every art and every branch of art on its own footing, and in isolating
it as far as possible.

It has been noticed that all plastic art strives toward painting, all
literary art toward the drama, and this observation may in the future
give us occasion for important reflections.

The genuine law-giving artist strives for the truth of art, the
lawless artist who follows a blind impulse strives for the reality of
Nature; through the former, art reaches its highest summit, through
the latter its lowest stage.

What holds good of art in general holds good also of the kinds of art.
The sculptor must think and feel differently from the painter, indeed
he must proceed when he wishes to produce a work in relief, in a
different fashion from that which he will employ for a work in the
round. By the raising of low reliefs higher and higher, by the making
of various parts and figures stand out completely, and finally by the
adding of buildings and landscapes, so that work was produced which
was half painting and half puppet-show, true art steadily declined.
Excellent artists of modern times have unfortunately pursued this

When in the future we express such maxims as we think sound, we should
like, since they are deduced from works of art, to have them put
to the test of practice by the artist. How rarely one can come to a
theoretical agreement with anyone else on a fundamental principle.
That which is applicable and useful, on the other hand, is decided
upon much more quickly. How often we see artists in embarrassment over
the choice of subjects, over the general type of composition adapted
to their art, and the detailed arrangement; how often the painter over
the choice of colors! Then is the time to test a principle, then will
it he easier to decide whether it is bringing us closer to the great
models and to everything that we value and love in them, or whether it
leaves us entangled in the empirical confusion of an experience that
has not been sufficiently thought out.

If such maxims hold good in training: the artist, in guiding him
in many an embarrassment, they will serve also in the development,
valuation, and judgment of old and new works of art, and will in turn
arise from an observation of these works. Indeed, it is all the more
necessary to adhere to this, because, notwithstanding the universally
praised excellences of antiquity, individuals and whole nations
among the moderns often fail to recognize wherein lies the highest
excellence of those works.

An exact test will protect us best from this evil. For that reason let
us cite only one example to show what usually happens to the amateur
in plastic art, so that we may make clear how necessary it is that
criticism of ancient as well as modern works should be exact if it is
to be of any use.

Upon him who has an eye for beauty, though untrained, even a blurred,
imperfect plaster cast of an excellent antique will always have a
great effect; for in such a reproduction there always remain the idea,
the simplicity and greatness of form, in short, the general outlines;
as much, at all events, as one could perceive with poor eyes at a

It may be noticed that a strong inclination toward art is often
enkindled by such quite imperfect reproductions. But the effect is
like the object; it is rather that an obscure indefinite feeling is
aroused, than that the object in all its worth and dignity really
appears to such beginners in art. These are they who usually express
the theory that too minute a critical investigation destroys the
enjoyment, who are accustomed to oppose and resist regard for details.

If gradually, however, after further experience and training, they
are confronted with a sharp cast instead of a blurred one, an original
instead of a cast, their pleasure grows with their insight, and
increases when the originals themselves, the perfect originals,
finally become known to them.

The labyrinth of exact observations is willingly entered when the
details as well as the whole are perfect; indeed one learns to realize
that the excellences can be appreciated only in proportion as the
defects are perceived. To discriminate the restoration from the
genuine parts, and the copy from the original, to see in the smallest
fragments the ruined glory of the whole--this is the joy of the
finished expert; and there is a great difference between observing and
comprehending an imperfect whole with obscured vision, and a perfect
whole with clear vision.

He who concerns himself with any branch of knowledge, should strive
for the highest! Insight is different from practice, for in practical
work everyone must soon resign himself to the fact that only a certain
measure of strength is alloted to him; far more people, however,
are capable of knowledge and insight. Indeed, one may well say that
everyone is thus capable who can deny himself and subordinate himself
to external objects, everyone who does not strive with rigid and
narrow-minded obstinacy to impose upon the highest works of Nature and
Art his own personality and his petty onesideness.

To speak of works of art fitly and with true benefit to oneself and
others, the discussion should take place only in the presence of the
works themselves. Everything depends on the objects being in view; on
whether something absolutely definite is suggested by the word with
which one hopes to illuminate the work of art; for, otherwise, nothing
is thought of at all. This is why it so often happens that the writer
on art dwells merely on generalities, through which, indeed, ideas and
sensations are aroused in all readers, but no satisfaction is given to
the man who, book in hand, steps in front of the work of art itself.
Precisely on this account, however, we may in several essays be in a
position to arouse rather than to satisfy the desire of the readers;
for nothing is more natural than that they should wish to have before
their eyes immediately an excellent work of art which is minutely
dissected, in order to enjoy the whole which we are discussing, and,
so far as the parts are concerned, to subject to their own judgment
the opinion which they read.

While the authors, however, write on the assumption that their readers
either have seen the works, or will see them in the future, yet they
hope to do everything in their power for those who are in neither
case. We shall mention reproductions, shall indicate where casts of
antique works of art and antique works themselves are accessible,
particularly to Germans; and thus try, as far as we can, to minister
to the genuine love and knowledge of art.

A history of art can be based only upon the highest and most detailed
comprehension of art; only when one knows the finest things that man
can produce can one trace the psychological and chronological course
taken in art, as in other fields. This course began with a limited
activity, busied about a dry and even gloomy imitation of the
insignificant as well as the significant, whence developed a more
amiable, more kindly feeling toward Nature, till finally, under
favorable circumstances, accompanied by knowledge, regularity,
seriousness, and severity, art rose to its height. There at last it
became possible for the fortunate genius, surrounded by all these
auxiliaries, to produce the charming and the complete.

Unfortunately, however, works of art with such ease of expression,
which instil into man cheerfulness, freedom, and a pleasant feeling of
his own personality, arouse in the striving artist the idea that the
process of production is also agreeable. Since the pinnacle of what
art and genius produce is an appearance of ease, the artists who come
after are tempted to make things easy for themselves, and to work for
the sake of appearances. Thus art gradually declines from its high
position, as to the whole as well as details. But if we wish to gain
a fair conception, we must come down to details of details, an
occupation not always agreeable or charming, but by and by richly
rewarded with a more certain view of the whole.

If the experience of observing ancient and mediaeval works of art has
shown us that certain maxims hold good we need these most of all
in judging the most recent modern productions; for, since personal
relations, love and hatred of individuals, favor or disfavor of the
multitude so easily enter into the valuation of living or recently
deceased artists, we are in all the more need of principles in order
to pass judgment on our contemporaries. The inquiry can be conducted
in two ways: by diminishing the influence of caprice; by bringing the
question before a higher tribunal. The principle can be tested as
well as its application; and even if we should not agree, the point in
dispute can still be definitely and clearly pointed out.

Especially should we wish that the vivifying artist, in whose works
we might perhaps have found something to remember, might test our
judgments carefully in this way; for everyone who deserves this
name is forced in our times to form, as a result of his work and his
reflections, a theory, or at least a certain conception of theoretical
means, by the use of which he gets along tolerably well in a variety
of cases. It will often be noticed, however, that in this way he
sets up as laws such maxims as are in accordance with his talent,
his inclination, and his convenience. He is subject to a fate that is
common to all mankind. How many act in this very way in other fields!
But we are not cultivating ourselves when we merely set in motion with
ease and convenience that which lies in us. Every artist, like every
man, is only an individual, and will always lean to one side. For that
reason, man should pursue so far as possible, both theoretically and
practically, that which is contrary to his nature. Let the easy-going
seek what is serious and severe; let the stern keep before his
eyes the light and agreeable; the strong, loveliness; the amiable,
strength; and everyone will develop his own nature the more, the
farther he seems to remove himself from it. Every art requires the
whole man; the highest possible degree of art requires all mankind.

The practice of the plastic arts is mechanical, and the training of
the artist rightly begins in his earliest youth with the mechanical
side; the rest of his education, on the other hand, is often
neglected, for it ought to be far more careful than the training of
others who have opportunity of deriving advantage from life itself.
Society soon makes a rough person courteous, a business life makes the
most simple person prudent; literary labors, which through print come
before a great public, find opposition and correction everywhere;
only the plastic artist is, for the most part, limited to a lonely
workshop; he has dealings almost solely with the man who orders
and pays for his labor, with a public which frequently follows only
certain morbid impressions, with connoisseurs who make him restless,
with auctioneers who receive every new work with praise and estimates
of value such as would fitly honor the most superlative production.

But it is time to conclude this introduction lest it anticipate and
forestall the work, instead of merely preceding it. We have so far at
least designated the point from which we intend to set out; how far
our views can and will spread, must at first develop gradually. The
theory and criticism of literary art will, we hope, soon occupy us;
and whatever life, travel, and daily events suggest to us, shall not
be excluded. In closing, let us say a word on an important concern of
this moment.

For the training of the artist, for the enjoyment of the friend of
art, it was from time immemorial of the greatest significance in what
place the works of art happened to be. There was a time when, except
for slight changes of location, they remained for the most part in
one place; now, however, a great change has occurred, which will
have important consequences for art in general and in particular.
At present we have perhaps more cause than ever to regard Italy as a
great storehouse of art--as it still was until recently. When it is
possible to give a general review of it, then it will be shown what
the world lost at the moment when so many parts were torn from this
great and ancient whole.

What was destroyed in the very act of tearing away will probably
remain a secret forever; but a description of the new storehouse that
is being formed in Paris will be possible in a few years. Then the
method by which an artist and a lover of art is to use France and
Italy can be indicated; and a further important and fine question will
arise: what are other nations, particularly Germany and England, to
do in this period of scattering and loss, to make generally useful the
manifold and widely strewn treasures of art--a task requiring the true
cosmopolitan mind which is found perhaps nowhere purer than in the
arts and sciences? And what are they to do to help to form an ideal
storehouse, which in the course of time may perhaps happily compensate
us for what the present moment tears away when it does not destroy?

So much in general of the purpose of a work in which we desire many
earnest and friendly sympathizers.

[Footnote A: The Propylaen was a periodical founded in July, 1798, by
Goethe and his friend Heinrich Meyer. During its short existence of
three years, there were published in it, besides the writings of the
editors, short contributions by Schiller and Humboldt. Its purpose was
to spread sound ideas about the aims and methods of art, and in this
notable introduction Goethe set forth with clearness and profundity
his fundamental ideas on these subjects. The present translation has
been made expressly for the Harvard Classics.]





It is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are
to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. The
evidence of this fact is to be sought, not in the writings of Critics,
but in those of Poets themselves.

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as
experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how
far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes
of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers
accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern
writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will
perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and
awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to
inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted
to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their
own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of very
disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; but
that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if
it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters,
and human incidents; and if the answer be favourable to the author's
wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in spite of that most
dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own pre-established codes of

Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which
many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that many lines
and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear
to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day,
the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his
expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is
apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder
writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most
successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of
this kind will he have to make.

An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other arts, Sir Joshua
Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent, which can only be
produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the
best models of composition. This is mentioned not with so ridiculous
a purpose as to prevent the most inexperienced reader from judging for
himself; but merely to temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest
that if poetry be a subject on which much time has not been bestowed,
the judgement may be erroneous, and that in many cases it necessarily
will be so.

The tale of _Goody Blake and Harry Gill_ is founded on a
well-authenticated fact which happened in Warwickshire. Of the other
poems in the collection, it may be proper to say that they are either
absolute inventions of the author, or facts which took place within
his personal observation or that of his friends. The poem of _The
Thorn_, as the reader will soon discover, is not supposed to be spoken
in the author's own person: the character of the loquacious narrator
will sufficiently show itself in the course of the story. _The Rime
of the Ancyent Marinere_ was professedly written in imitation of the
_style_, as well as of the spirit of the elder poets; but with a few
exceptions, the Author believes that the language adopted in it has
been equally intelligible for these three last centuries. The lines
entitled _Expostulation and Reply_, and those which follow, arose out
of conversation with a friend who was somewhat unreasonably attached
to modern books of moral philosophy.

[Footnote A: William Wordsworth (1770-1830), probably the greatest of
the poets of the Romantic Movement in England, was also foremost in
the critical defence of that movement. The Prefaces and Essays printed
here form a kind of manifesto of the reaction from the poetical
traditions of the eighteenth century; and contain besides some of the
soundest theorizing on the nature of poetry to be found in English.
They afford an interesting comparison with the parallel protest in
Victor Hugo's Preface to "Cromwell," to be found later in the volume.]



The first volume of these Poems has already been submitted to general
perusal. It was published as an experiment, which, I hoped, might be
of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement
a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation,
that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted,
which a Poet may rationally endeavour to impart.

I had formed no very inaccurate estimate of the probable effect of
those Poems: I flattered myself that they who should be pleased with
them would read them with more than common pleasure: and, on the other
hand, I was well aware, that by those who should dislike them, they
would be read with more than common dislike. The result has differed
from my expectation in this only, that a greater number have been
pleased than I ventured to hope I should please.

* * * * *

Several of my Friends are anxious for the success of these Poems, from
a belief, that, if the views with which they were composed were
indeed realized, a class of Poetry would be produced, well adapted to
interest mankind permanently, and not unimportant in the quality, and
in the multiplicity of its moral relations: and on this account they
have advised me to prefix a systematic defence of the theory upon
which the Poems were written. But I was unwilling to undertake the
task, knowing that on this occasion the Reader would look coldly upon
my arguments, since I might be suspected of having been principally
influenced by the selfish and foolish hope of _reasoning_ him into an
approbation of these particular Poems: and I was still more unwilling
to undertake the task, because, adequately to display the opinions,
and fully to enforce the arguments, would require a space wholly
disproportionate to a preface. For, to treat the subject with the
clearness and coherence of which it is susceptible, it would be
necessary to give a full account of the present state of the public
taste in this country, and to determine how far this taste is healthy
or depraved; which, again, could not be determined, without pointing
out in what manner language and the human mind act and re-act on each
other, and without retracing the revolutions, not of literature alone,
but likewise of society itself. I have therefore altogether declined
to enter regularly upon this defence; yet I am sensible, that there
would be something like impropriety in abruptly obtruding upon the
Public, without a few words of introduction, Poems so materially
different from those upon which general approbation is at present

It is supposed that by the act of writing in verse an Author makes
a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of
association; that he not only thus apprises the Reader that certain
classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that
others will be carefully excluded. This exponent or symbol held forth
by metrical language must in different eras of literature have excited
very different expectations: for example, in the age of Catullus,
Terence, and Lucretius, and that of Statius or Claudian; and in our
own country, in the age of Shakespeare and Beaumont and Fletcher, and
that of Donne and Cowley, or Dryden, or Pope. I will not take upon
me to determine the exact import of the promise which, by the act of
writing in verse, an Author in the present day makes to his reader:
but it will undoubtedly appear to many persons that I have not
fulfilled the terms of an engagement thus voluntarily contracted. They
who have been accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of
many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its
conclusion, will, no doubt, frequently have to struggle with feelings
of strangeness and awawkwardnessthey will look round for poetry, and
will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts
can be permitted to assume that title. I hope therefore the reader
will not censure me for attempting to state what I have proposed to
myself to perform; and also (as far as the limits of a preface will
permit) to explain some of the chief reasons which have determined
me in the choice of my purpose: that at least he may be spared
any unpleasant feeling of disappointment, and that I myself may be
protected from one of the most dishonourable accusations which can be
brought against an Author; namely, that of an indolence which prevents
him from endeavouring to ascertain what is his duty, or, when his duty
is ascertained, prevents him from performing it.

The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose
incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe
them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language
really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a
certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be
presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above
all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in
them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature:
chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in
a state of excitement. Humble and rustic life was generally chosen,
because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find
a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under
restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in
that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state
of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately
contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of
rural life germinate from those elementary feelings, and, from
the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily
comprehended, and are more durable; and, lastly, because in that
condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and
permanent forms of nature. The language, too, of these men has been
adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from
all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust) because such
men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part
of language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in
society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being
less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings
and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. Accordingly, such
a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings,
is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that
which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that they
are conferring honour upon themselves and their art, in proportion as
they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in
arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to
furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, of their own

I cannot, however, be insensible to the present outcry against the
triviality and meanness, both of thought and language, which some of
my contemporaries have occasionally introduced into their metrical
compositions; and I acknowledge that this defect, where it exists, is
more dishonourable to the Writer's own character than false refinement
or arbitrary innovation, though I should contend at the same time,
that it is far less pernicious in the sum of its consequences. From
such verses the Poems in these volumes will be found distinguished
at least by one mark of difference, that each of them has a worthy
_purpose_. Not that I always began to write with a distinct purpose
formerly conceived; but habits of meditation have, I trust, so
prompted and regulated my feelings, that my descriptions of such
objects as strongly excite those feelings, will be found to carry
along with them a _purpose_. If this opinion be erroneous, I can
have little right to the name of a Poet. For all good poetry is the
spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true,
Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any
variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than
usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply. For
our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by
our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past
feelings; and, as by contemplating the relation of these general
representatives to each other, we discover what is really important to
men, so, by the repetition and continuance of this act, our feelings
will be connected with important subjects, till at length, if we be
originally possessed of much sensibility, such habits of mind will be
produced, that, by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of
those habits, we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of
such a nature, and in such connexion with each other, that the
understanding of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree
enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified.

It has been said that each of these poems has a purpose. Another
circumstance must be mentioned which distinguishes these Poems from
the popular Poetry of the day; it is this, that the feeling therein
developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the
action and situation to the feeling.

A sense of false modesty shall not prevent me from asserting, that the
Reader's attention is pointed to this mark of distinction, far
less for the sake of these particular Poems than from the general
importance of the subject. The subject is indeed important! For the
human mind is capable of being excited without the application of
gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception
of its beauty and dignity who does not know this, and who does not
further know, that one being is elevated above another, in proportion
as he possesses this capability. It has therefore appeared to me, that
to endeavour to produce or enlarge this capability is one of the best
services in which, at any period, a Writer can be engaged; but this
service, excellent at all times, is especially so at the present day.
For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting
with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind,
and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state
of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the
great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing
accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their
occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the
rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies. To this tendency
of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the
country have conformed themselves. The invaluable works of our elder
writers, I had almost said the works of Shakespeare and Milton,
are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German
Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.--When
I think upon this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation, I am
almost ashamed to have spoken of the feeble endeavour made in these
volumes to counteract it; and, reflecting upon the magnitude of the
general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonourable melancholy,
had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and indestructible
qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain powers in the
great and permanent objects that act upon it, which are equally
inherent and indestructible; and were there not added to this
impression a belief, that the time is approaching when the evil will
be systematically opposed, by men of greater powers, and with far more
distinguished success.

Having dwelt thus long on the subjects and aim of these Poems, I shall
request the Reader's permission to apprise him of a few circumstances
relating to their _style_, in order, among other reasons, that he may
not censure me for not having performed what I never attempted. The
Reader will find that personifications of abstract ideas rarely occur
in these volumes; and are utterly rejected, as an ordinary device
to elevate the style, and raise it above prose. My purpose was to
imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very language of men;
and assuredly such personifications do not make any natural or
regular part of that language. They are, indeed, a figure of speech
occasionally prompted by passion, and I have made use of them as such;
but have endeavoured utterly to reject them as a mechanical device
of style, or as a family language which Writers in metre seem to lay
claim to by prescription. I have wished to keep the Reader in the
company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so doing I shall
interest him. Others who pursue a different track will interest him
likewise; I do not interfere with their claim, but wish to prefer a
claim of my own. There will also be found in these volumes little of
what is usually called poetic diction; as much pains has been taken to
avoid it as is ordinarily taken to produce it; this has been done for
the reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language
of men; and further, because the pleasure which I have proposed to
myself to impart, is of a kind very different from that which is
supposed by many persons to be the proper object of poetry. Without
being culpably particular, I do not know how to give my Reader a more
exact notion of the style in which it was my wish and intention to
write, than by informing him that I have at all times endeavoured to
look steadily at my subject; consequently, there is I hope in these
Poems little falsehood of description, and my ideas are expressed in
language fitted to their respective importance. Something must have
been gained by this practice, as it is friendly to one property of
all good poetry, namely, good sense: but it has necessarily cut me
off from a large portion of phrases and figures of speech which from
father to son have long been regarded as the common inheritance of
Poets. I have also thought it expedient to restrict myself still
further, having abstained from the use of many expressions, in
themselves proper and beautiful, but which have been foolishly
repeated by bad Poets, till such feelings of disgust are connected
with them as it is scarcely possible by any art of association to

If in a poem there should be found a series of lines, or even a single
line, in which the language, though naturally arranged, and according
to the strict laws of metre, does not differ from that of prose, there
is a numerous class of critics, who, when they stumble upon these
prosaisms, as they call them, imagine that they have made a notable
discovery, and exult over the Poet as over a man ignorant of his own
profession. Now these men would establish a canon of criticism which
the Reader will conclude he must utterly reject, if he wishes to be
pleased with these volumes. And it would be a most easy task to prove
to him, that not only the language of a large portion of every good
poem, even of the most elevated character, must necessarily, except
with reference to the metre, in no respect differ from that of good
prose, but likewise that some of the most interesting parts of the
best poems will be found to be strictly the language of prose
when prose is well written. The truth of this assertion might be
demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost all the poetical
writings, even of Milton himself. To illustrate the subject in a
general manner, I will here adduce a short composition of Gray, who
was at the head of those who, by their reasonings, have attempted to
widen the space of separation betwixt Prose and Metrical composition,
and was more than any other man curiously elaborate in the structure
of his own poetic diction.

In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire;
The birds in vain their amorous descant join,
Or cheerful fields resume their green attire.
These ears, alas! for other notes repine;
_A different object do these eyes require;
My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire_;
Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
And new-born pleasure brings to happier men;
The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
To warm their little loves the birds complain.
_I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,
And weep the more because I weep in vain._

It will easily be perceived, that the only part of this Sonnet
which is of any value is the lines printed in Italics; it is equally
obvious, that, except in the rhyme, and in the use of the single word
'fruitless' for fruitlessly, which is so far a defect, the language of
these lines does in no respect differ from that of prose.

By the foregoing quotation it has been shown that the language
of Prose may yet be well adapted to Poetry; and it was previously
asserted, that a large portion of the language of every good poem can
in no respect differ from that of good Prose. We will go further.
It may be safely affirmed, that there neither is, nor can be, any
_essential_ difference between the language of prose and metrical
composition. We are fond of tracing the resemblance between Poetry and
Painting, and, accordingly, we call them Sisters: but where shall we
find bonds of connexion sufficiently strict to typify the affinity
betwixt metrical and prose composition? They both speak by and to the
same organs; the bodies in which both of them are clothed may be said
to be of the same substance, their affections are kindred, and almost
identical, not necessarily differing even in degree; Poetry[2] sheds
no tears 'such as Angels weep,' but natural and human tears; she can
boast of no celestial choir that distinguishes her vital juices from
those of prose; the same human blood circulates through the veins of
them both.

If it be affirmed that rhyme and metrical arrangement of themselves
constitute a distinction which overturns what has just been said on
the strict affinity of metrical language with that of prose, and paves
the way for other artificial distinctions which the mind voluntarily
admits, I answer that the language of such Poetry as is here
recommended is, as far as is possible, a selection of the language
really spoken by men; that this selection, wherever it is made with
true taste and feeling, will of itself form a distinction far greater
than would at first be imagined, and will entirely separate the
composition from the vulgarity and meanness of ordinary life; and, if
metre be superadded thereto, I believe that a dissimilitude will be
produced altogether sufficient for the gratification of a rational
mind. What other distinction would we have? Whence is it to come? And
where is it to exist? Not, surely, where the Poet speaks through the
mouths of his characters: it cannot be necessary here, either for
elevation of style, or any of its supposed ornaments: for, if the
Poet's subject be judiciously chosen, it will naturally, and upon
fit occasion, lead him to passions the language of which, if selected
truly and judiciously, must necessarily be dignified and variegated,
and alive with metaphors and figures. I forbear to speak of an
incongruity which would shock the intelligent Reader, should the
Poet interweave any foreign splendour of his own with that which the
passion naturally suggests: it is sufficient to say that such addition
is unnecessary. And, surely, it is more probable that those passages,
which with propriety abound with metaphors and figures, will have
their due effect, if, upon other occasions where the passions are of a
milder character, the style also be subdued and temperate.

But, as the pleasure which I hope to give by the Poems now presented
to the Reader must depend entirely on just notions upon this subject,
and, as it is in itself of high importance to our taste and moral
feelings, I cannot content myself with these detached remarks. And if,
in what I am about to say, it shall appear to some that my labour
is unnecessary, and that I am like a man fighting a battle without
enemies, such persons may be reminded, that, whatever be the language
outwardly holden by men, a practical faith in the opinions which I
am wishing to establish is almost unknown. If my conclusions are
admitted, and carried as far as they must be carried if admitted at
all, our judgements concerning the works of the greatest Poets
both ancient and modern will be far different from what they are
at present, both when we praise, and when we censure: and our moral
feelings influencing and influenced by these judgements will, I
believe, be corrected and purified.

Taking up the subject, then, upon general grounds, let me ask, what
is meant by the word Poet? What is a Poet? To whom does he address
himself? And what language is to be expected from him?--He is a
man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively
sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater
knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are
supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own
passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the
spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar
volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe,
and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.
To these qualities he has added a disposition to be affected more
than other men by absent things as if they were present; an ability of
conjuring up in himself passions, which are indeed far from being the
same as those produced by real events, yet (especially in those parts
of the general sympathy which are pleasing and delightful) do more
nearly resemble the passions produced by real events, than anything
which, from the motions of their own minds merely, other men are
accustomed to feel in themselves:--whence, and from practice, he has
acquired a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks
and feels, and especially those thoughts and feelings which, by
his own choice, or from the structure of his own mind, arise in him
without immediate external excitement.

But whatever portion of this faculty we may suppose even the greatest
Poet to possess, there cannot be a doubt that the language which it
will suggest to him, must often, in liveliness and truth, fall
short of that which is uttered by men in real life, under the actual
pressure of those passions, certain shadows of which the Poet thus
produces, or feels to be produced, in himself.

However exalted a notion we would wish to cherish of the character of
a Poet, it is obvious, that while he describes and imitates passions,
his employment is in some degree mechanical, compared with the freedom
and power of real and substantial action and suffering. So that it
will be the wish of the Poet to bring his feelings near to those of
the persons whose feelings he describes, nay, for short spaces of
time, perhaps, to let himself slip into an entire delusion, and even
confound and identify his own feelings with theirs; modifying only
the language which is thus suggested to him by a consideration that
he describes for a particular purpose, that of giving pleasure. Here,
then, he will apply the principle of selection which has been already
insisted upon. He will depend upon this for removing what would
otherwise be painful or disgusting in the passion; he will feel that
there is no necessity to trick out or to elevate nature: and, the more
industriously he applies this principle, the deeper will be his faith
that no words, which _his_ fancy or imagination can suggest, will
be to be compared with those which are the emanations of reality and

But it may be said by those who do not object to the general spirit of
these remarks, that, as it is impossible for the Poet to produce upon
all occasions language as exquisitely fitted for the passion as that
which the real passion itself suggests, it is proper that he should
consider himself as in the situation of a translator, who does not
scruple to substitute excellencies of another kind for those which
are unattainable by him; and endeavours occasionally to surpass his
original, in order to make some amends for the general inferiority
to which he feels that he must submit. But this would be to encourage
idleness and unmanly despair. Further, it is the language of men
who speak of what they do not understand; who talk of Poetry as of a
matter of amusement and idle pleasure; who will converse with us as
gravely about a _taste_ for Poetry, as they express it, as if it were
a thing as indifferent as a taste for rope-dancing, or Frontiniac or
Sherry. Aristotle, I have been told, has said, that Poetry is the
most philosophic of all writing: it is so: its object is truth, not
individual and local, but general, and operative; not standing upon
external testimony, but carried alive into the heart by passion; truth
which is its own testimony, which gives competence and confidence
to the tribunal to which it appeals, and receives them from the same
tribunal. Poetry is the image of man and nature. The obstacles which
stand in the way of the fidelity of the Biographer and Historian, and
of their consequent utility, are incalculably greater than those which
are to be encountered by the Poet who comprehends the dignity of his
art. The Poet writes under one restriction only, namely, the necessity
of giving immediate pleasure to a human Being possessed of that
information which may be expected from him, not as a lawyer, a
physician, a mariner, an astronomer, or a natural philosopher, but
as a Man. Except this one restriction, there is no object standing
between the Poet and the image of things; between this, and the
Biographer and Historian, there are a thousand.

Nor let this necessity of producing immediate pleasure be considered
as a degradation of the Poet's art. It is far otherwise. It is an
acknowledgement of the beauty of the universe, an acknowledgement the
more sincere, because not formal, but indirect; it is a task light and
easy to him who looks at the world in the spirit of love: further, it
is a homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man, to the grand
elementary principle of pleasure, by which he knows, and feels,
and lives, and moves. We have no sympathy but what is propagated by
pleasure: I would not be misunderstood; but wherever we sympathize
with pain, it will be found that the sympathy is produced and carried
on by subtle combinations with pleasure. We have no knowledge, that
is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular
facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by
pleasure alone. The Man of science, the Chemist and Mathematician,
whatever difficulties and disgusts they may have had to struggle with,
know and feel this. However painful may be the objects with which the
Anatomist's knowledge is connected, he feels that his knowledge is
pleasure; and where he has no pleasure he has no knowledge. What then
does the Poet? He considers man and the objects that surround him as
acting and re-acting upon each other, so as to produce an infinite
complexity of pain and pleasure; he considers man in his own nature
and in his ordinary life as contemplating this with a certain quantity
of immediate knowledge, with certain convictions, intuitions, and
deductions, which from habit acquire the quality of intuitions;
he considers him as looking upon this complex scene of ideas and
sensations, and finding everywhere objects that immediately excite
in him sympathies which, from the necessities of his nature, are
accompanied by an overbalance of enjoyment.

To this knowledge which all men carry about with them, and to these
sympathies in which, without any other discipline than that of our
daily life, we are fitted to take delight, the Poet principally
directs his attention. He considers man and nature as essentially
adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally the mirror of
the fairest and most interesting properties of nature. And thus the
Poet, prompted by this feeling of pleasure, which accompanies him
through the whole course of his studies, converses with general
nature, with affections akin to those, which, through labour and
length of time, the Man of science has raised up in himself, by
conversing with those particular parts of nature which are the objects
of his studies. The knowledge both of the Poet and the Man of science
is pleasure; but the knowledge of the one cleaves to us as a necessary
part of our existence, our natural and unalienable inheritance; the
other is a personal and individual acquisition, slow to come to
us, and by no habitual and direct sympathy connecting us with our
fellow-beings. The Man of science seeks truth as a remote and unknown
benefactor; he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: the Poet,
singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in
the presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly companion.
Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the
impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science.
Emphatically may it be said of the Poet, as Shakespeare hath said of
man, 'that he looks before and after.' He is the rock of defence for
human nature; an upholder and preserver, carrying everywhere with him
relationship and love. In spite of difference of soil and climate, of
language and manners, of laws and customs: in spite of things silently
gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed; the Poet binds
together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as
it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time. The objects of
the Poet's thoughts are everywhere; though the eyes and senses of man
are, it is true, his favourite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever
he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings.
Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge--it is as immortal as
the heart of man. If the labours of Men of science should ever create
any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in
the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will sleep then
no more than at present; he will be ready to follow the steps of the
Man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he
will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects
of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the
Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the Poet's
art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come
when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under
which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective
sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying
and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now
called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on,
as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the Poet will lend his divine
spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the Being thus
produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man.--It is
not, then, to be supposed that any one, who holds that sublime notion
of Poetry which I have attempted to convey, will break in upon the
sanctity and truth of his pictures by transitory and accidental
ornaments, and endeavour to excite admiration of himself by arts, the
necessity of which must manifestly depend upon the assumed meanness of
his subject.

What has been thus far said applies to Poetry in general; but
especially to those parts of composition where the Poet speaks through
the mouths of his characters; and upon this point it appears to
authorize the conclusion, that there are few persons of good sense,
who would not allow that the dramatic parts of composition are
defective, in proportion as they deviate from the real language
of nature, and are coloured by a diction of the Poet's own, either
peculiar to him as an individual Poet or belonging simply to Poets
in general; to a body of men who, from the circumstance of their
compositions being in metre, it is expected will employ a particular

It is not, then, in the dramatic parts of composition that we look for
this distinction of language; but still it may be proper and necessary
where the Poet speaks to us in his own person and character. To this
I answer by referring the Reader to the description before given of a
Poet. Among the qualities there enumerated as principally conducing to
form a Poet, is implied nothing differing in kind from other men, but
only in degree. The sum of what was said is, that the Poet is chiefly
distinguished from other men by a greater promptness to think and
feel without immediate external excitement, and a greater power in
expressing such thoughts and feelings as are produced in him in that
manner. But these passions and thoughts and feelings are the general
passions and thoughts and feelings of men. And with what are
they connected? Undoubtedly with our moral sentiments and animal
sensations, and with the causes which excite these; with the
operations of the elements, and the appearances of the visible
universe; with storm and sunshine, with the revolutions of the
seasons, with cold and heat, with loss of friends and kindred, with
injuries and resentments, gratitude and hope, with fear and sorrow.
These, and the like, are the sensations and objects which the Poet
describes, as they are the sensations of other men, and the objects
which interest them. The Poet thinks and feels in the spirit of human
passions. How, then, can his language differ in any material degree
from that of all other men who feel vividly and see clearly? It might
be _proved_ that it is impossible. But supposing that this were not
the case, the Poet might then be allowed to use a peculiar language
when expressing his feelings for his own gratification, or that of
men like himself. But Poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men.
Unless therefore we are advocates for that admiration which subsists
upon ignorance, and that pleasure which arises from hearing what we do
not understand, the Poet must descend from this supposed height; and,
in order to excite rational sympathy, he must express himself as other
men express themselves. To this it may be added, that while he is only
selecting from the real language of men, or, which amounts to the same
thing, composing accurately in the spirit of such selection, he is
treading upon safe ground, and we know what we are to expect from him.
Our feelings are the same with respect to metre; for, as it may be
proper to remind the Reader, the distinction of metre is regular
and uniform, and not, like that which is produced by what is usually
called POETIC DICTION, arbitrary, and subject to infinite caprices
upon which no calculation whatever can be made. In the one case, the
Reader is utterly at the mercy of the Poet, respecting what imagery
or diction he may choose to connect with the passion; whereas, in the
other, the metre obeys certain laws, to which the Poet and Reader both
willingly submit because they are certain, and because no interference
is made by them with the passion, but such as the concurring testimony
of ages has shown to heighten and improve the pleasure which co-exists
with it.

It will now be proper to answer an obvious question, namely, Why,
professing these opinions, have I written in verse? To this, in
addition to such answer as is included in what has been already said,
I reply, in the first place, Because, however I may have restricted
myself, there is still left open to me what confessedly constitutes
the most valuable object of all writing, whether in prose or verse;
the great and universal passions of men, the most general and
interesting of their occupations, and the entire world of nature
before me--to supply endless combinations of forms and imagery. Now,
supposing for a moment that whatever is interesting in these objects
may be as vividly described in prose, why should I be condemned for
attempting to superadd to such description the charm which, by the
consent of all nations, is acknowledged to exist in metrical language?
To this, by such as are yet unconvinced, it may he answered that
a very small part of the pleasure given by Poetry depends upon the
metre, and that it is injudicious to write in metre, unless it be
accompanied with the other artificial distinctions of style with which
metre is usually accompanied, and that, by such deviation, more will
be lost from the shock which will thereby be given to the Reader's
associations than will be counterbalanced by any pleasure which he can
derive from the general power of numbers. In answer to those who
still contend for the necessity of accompanying metre with certain
appropriate colours of style in order to the accomplishment of its
appropriate end, and who also, in my opinion, greatly underrate the
power of metre in itself, it might, perhaps, as far as relates to
these Volumes, have been almost sufficient to observe, that poems are
extant, written upon more humble subjects, and in a still more
naked and simple style, which have continued to give pleasure from
generation to generation. Now, if nakedness and simplicity be a
defect, the fact here mentioned affords a strong presumption that
poems somewhat less naked and simple are capable of affording pleasure
at the present day; and, what I wish _chiefly_ to attempt, at present,
was to justify myself for having written under the impression of this

But various causes might be pointed out why, when the style is manly,
and the subject of some importance, words metrically arranged will
long continue to impart such a pleasure to mankind as he who proves
the extent of that pleasure will be desirous to impart. The end of
Poetry is to produce excitement in co-existence with an overbalance
of pleasure; but, by the supposition, excitement is an unusual and
irregular state of the mind; ideas and feelings do not, in that state,
succeed each other in accustomed order. If the words, however, by
which this excitement is produced be in themselves powerful, or the
images and feelings have an undue proportion of pain connected with
them, there is some danger that the excitement may be carried beyond
its proper bounds. Now the co-presence of something regular, something
to which the mind has been accustomed in various moods and in a
less excited state, cannot but have great efficacy in tempering and
restraining the passion by an inter-texture of ordinary feeling, and
of feeling not strictly and necessarily connected with the passion.
This is unquestionably true; and hence, though the opinion will
at first appear paradoxical, from the tendency of metre to divest
language, in a certain degree, of its reality, and thus to throw a
sort of half-consciousness of unsubstantial existence over the
whole composition, there can be little doubt but that more pathetic
situations and sentiments, that is, those which have a greater
proportion of pain connected with them, may be endured in metrical
composition, especially in rhyme, than in prose. The metre of the old
ballads is very artless; yet they contain many passages which would
illustrate this opinion; and, I hope, if the following Poems be
attentively perused, similar instances will be found in them. This
opinion may be further illustrated by appealing to the Reader's own
experience of the reluctance with which he comes to the re-perusal of
the distressful parts of _Clarissa Harlowe_, or _The Gamester_; while
Shakespeare's writings, in the most pathetic scenes, never act upon
us, as pathetic, beyond the bounds of pleasure--an effect which, in a
much greater degree than might at first be imagined, is to be ascribed
to small, but continual and regular impulses of pleasurable surprise
from the metrical arrangement.--On the other hand (what it must be
allowed will much more frequently happen) if the Poet's words should
be incommensurate with the passion, and inadequate to raise the Reader
to a height of desirable excitement, then (unless the Poet's choice of
his metre has been grossly injudicious), in the feelings of pleasure
which the Reader has been accustomed to connect with metre in general,
and in the feeling, whether cheerful or melancholy, which he has been
accustomed to connect with that particular movement of metre, there
will be found something which will greatly contribute to impart
passion to the words, and to effect the complex end which the Poet
proposes to himself.

If I had undertaken a SYSTEMATIC defence of the theory here
maintained, it would have been my duty to develop the various causes
upon which the pleasure received from metrical language depends. Among
the chief of these causes is to be reckoned a principle which must
be well known to those who have made any of the Arts the object of
accurate reflection; namely, the pleasure which the mind derives from
the perception of similitude in dissimilitude. This principle is the
great spring of the activity of our minds, and their chief feeder.
From this principle the direction of the sexual appetite, and all the
passions connected with it, take their origin: it is the life of our
ordinary conversation; and upon the accuracy with which similitude in
dissimilitude, and dissimilitude in similitude are perceived, depend
our taste and our moral feelings. It would not be a useless employment
to apply this principle to the consideration of metre, and to show
that metre is hence enabled to afford much pleasure, and to point
out in what manner that pleasure is produced. But my limits will not
permit me to enter upon this subject, and I must content myself with a
general summary.

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful
feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in
tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of
reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion,
kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is
gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In
this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood
similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind,
and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various
pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are
voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state
of enjoyment. If Nature be thus cautious to preserve in a state of
enjoyment a being so employed, the Poet ought to profit by the lesson
held forth to him, and ought especially to take care, that, whatever
passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions, if his
Reader's mind be sound and vigorous, should always be accompanied
with an overbalance of pleasure. Now the music of harmonious metrical
language, the sense of difficulty overcome, and the blind association
of pleasure which has been previously received from works of rhyme or
metre of the same or similar construction, an indistinct perception
perpetually renewed of language closely resembling that of real
life, and yet, in the circumstance of metre, differing from it so
widely--all these imperceptibly make up a complex feeling of delight,
which is of the most important use in tempering the painful feeling
always found intermingled with powerful descriptions of the deeper
passions. This effect is always produced in pathetic and impassioned
poetry; while, in lighter compositions, the ease and gracefulness
with which the Poet manages his numbers are themselves confessedly a
principal source of the gratification of the Reader. All that it is
_necessary_ to say, however, upon this subject, may he effected by
affirming, what few persons will deny, that, of two descriptions,
either of passions, manners, or characters, each of them equally well
executed, the one in prose and the other in verse, the verse will be
read a hundred times where the prose is read once.

Having thus explained a few of my reasons for writing in verse, and
why I have chosen subjects from common life, and endeavoured to bring
my language near to the real language of men, if I have been too
minute in pleading my own cause, I have at the same time been treating
a subject of general interest; and for this reason a few words shall
be added with reference solely to these particular poems, and to some
defects which will probably be found in them. I am sensible that my
associations must have sometimes been particular instead of general,
and that, consequently, giving to things a false importance, I
may have sometimes written upon unworthy subjects; but I am less
apprehensive on this account, than that my language may frequently
have suffered from those arbitrary connexions of feelings and ideas
with particular words and phrases, from which no man can altogether
protect himself. Hence I have no doubt, that, in some instances,
feelings, even of the ludicrous, may be given to my Readers by
expressions which appeared to me tender and pathetic. Such faulty
expressions, were I convinced they were faulty at present, and that
they must necessarily continue to be so, I would willingly take
all reasonable pains to correct. But it is dangerous to make these
alterations on the simple authority of a few individuals, or even of
certain classes of men; for where the understanding of an Author is
not convinced, or his feelings altered, this cannot be done without
great injury to himself: for his own feelings are his stay and
support; and, if he set them aside in one instance, he may be induced
to repeat this act till his mind shall lose all confidence in itself,
and become utterly debilitated. To this it may be added, that the
critic ought never to forget that he is himself exposed to the same
errors as the Poet, and, perhaps, in a much greater degree: for
there can be no presumption in saying of most readers, that it is not
probable they will be so well acquainted with the various stages of
meaning through which words have passed, or with the fickleness or
stability of the relations of particular ideas to each other; and,
above all, since they are so much less interested in the subject, they
may decide lightly and carelessly.

Long as the Reader has been detained, I hope he will permit me to
caution him against a mode of false criticism which has been applied
to Poetry, in which the language closely resembles that of life and
nature. Such verses have been triumphed over in parodies, of which Dr.
Johnson's stanza is a fair specimen:--

I put my hat upon my head
And walked into the Strand,
And there I met another man
Whose hat was in his hand.

Immediately under these lines let us place one of the most justly
admired stanzas of the 'Babes in the Wood,'

These pretty Babes with hand in hand
Went wandering up and down;
But never more they saw the Man
Approaching from the Town.

In both these stanzas the words, and the order of the words, in no
respect differ from the most unimpassioned conversation. There are
words in both, for example, 'the Strand,' and 'the Town,' connected
with none but the most familiar ideas; yet the one stanza we admit
as admirable, and the other as a fair example of the superlatively
contemptible. Whence arises this difference? Not from the metre, not
from the language, not from the order of the words; but the _matter_
expressed in Dr. Johnson's stanza is contemptible. The proper method
of treating trivial and simple verses, to which Dr. Johnson's stanza
would be a fair parallelism, is not to say, this is a bad kind of
poetry, or, this is not poetry; but, this wants sense; it is neither
interesting in itself nor can _lead_ to anything interesting; the
images neither originate in that sane state of feeling which arises
out of thought, nor can excite thought or feeling in the Reader. This
is the only sensible manner of dealing with such verses. Why trouble
yourself about the species till you have previously decided upon the
genus? Why take pains to prove than an ape is not a Newton, when it is
self-evident that he is not a man?

One request I must make of my reader, which is, that in judging
these Poems he would decide by his own feelings genuinely, and not
by reflection upon what will probably be the judgement of others.
How common is it to hear a person say, I myself do not object to this
style of composition, or this or that expression, but, to such and
such classes of people it will appear mean or ludicrous! This mode
of criticism, so destructive of all sound unadulterated judgement, is
almost universal: let the Reader then abide, independently, by his own
feelings, and, if he finds himself affected, let him not suffer such
conjectures to interfere with his pleasure.

If an Author, by any single composition, has impressed us with
respect for his talents, it is useful to consider this as affording
a presumption, that on other occasions where we have been displeased,
he, nevertheless, may not have written ill or absurdly; and further,
to give him so much credit for this one composition as may induce
us to review what has displeased us, with more care than we should
otherwise have bestowed upon it. This is not only an act of justice,
but, in our decisions upon poetry especially, may conduce, in a high
degree, to the improvement of our own taste; for an _accurate_ taste
in poetry, and in all the other arts, as Sir Joshua Reynolds has
observed, is an _acquired_ talent, which can only be produced by
thought and a long continued intercourse with the best models of
composition. This is mentioned, not with so ridiculous a purpose as to
prevent the most inexperienced Reader from judging for himself (I
have already said that I wish him to judge for himself), but merely to
temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest, that, if Poetry be a
subject on which much time has not been bestowed, the judgement may be
erroneous; and that, in many cases, it necessarily will be so.

Nothing would, I know, have so effectually contributed to further the
end which I have in view, as to have shown of what kind the pleasure
is, and how that pleasure is produced, which is confessedly produced
by metrical composition essentially different from that which I have
here endeavoured to recommend: for the Reader will say that he has
been pleased by such composition; and what more can be done for him?
The power of any art is limited; and he will suspect, that, if it
be proposed to furnish him with new friends, that can be only upon
condition of his abandoning his old friends. Besides, as I have said,
the Reader is himself conscious of the pleasure which he has received
from such composition, composition to which he has peculiarly attached
the endearing name of Poetry; and all men feel an habitual gratitude,
and something of an honourable bigotry, for the objects which have
long continued to please them: we not only wish to be pleased, but to
be pleased in that particular way in which we have been accustomed
to be pleased. There is in these feelings enough to resist a host of
arguments; and I should be the less able to combat them successfully,
as I am willing to allow, that, in order entirely to enjoy the Poetry
which I am recommending, it would be necessary to give up much of what
is ordinarily enjoyed. But, would my limits have permitted me to point
out how this pleasure is produced, many obstacles might have been
removed, and the Reader assisted in perceiving that the powers of
language are not so limited as he may suppose; and that it is possible
for poetry to give other enjoyments, of a purer, more lasting,
and more exquisite nature. This part of the subject has not been
altogether neglected, but it has not been so much my present aim to
prove, that the interest excited by some other kinds of poetry is less
vivid, and less worthy of the nobler powers of the mind, as to offer
reasons for presuming, that if my purpose were fulfilled, a species of
poetry would be produced, which is genuine poetry; in its nature well
adapted to interest mankind permanently, and likewise important in the
multiplicity and quality of its moral relations.

From what has been said, and from a perusal of the Poems, the Reader
will be able clearly to perceive the object which I had in view: he
will determine how far it has been attained; and, what is a much
more important question, whether it be worth attaining: and upon the
decision of these two questions will rest my claim to the approbation
of the Public.

[Footnote 1: It is worth while here to observe, that the affecting
parts of Chaucer are almost always expressed In language pure and
universally intelligible even to this day.]

[Footnote 2: I here use the word 'Poetry' (though against my own
judgement) as opposed to the word Prose, and synonymous with metrical
composition. But much confusion has been introduced into criticism
by this contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead of the more
philosophical one of Poetry and Matter of Fact, or Science. The only
strict antithesis to Prose is Metre; nor is this, in truth, a _strict_
antithesis, because lines and passages of metre so naturally occur in
writing prose, that it would be scarcely possible to avoid them, even
were it desirable.]



Perhaps, as I have no right to expect that attentive perusal, without
which, confined, as I have been, to the narrow limits of a preface, my
meaning cannot be thoroughly understood, I am anxious to give an exact
notion of the sense in which the phrase poetic diction has been used;
and for this purpose, a few words shall here be added, concerning the
origin and characteristics of the phraseology, which I have condemned
under that name.

The earliest poets of all nations generally wrote from passion excited
by real events; they wrote naturally, and as men: feeling powerfully
as they did, their language was daring, and figurative. In succeeding
times, Poets, and Men ambitious of the fame of Poets, perceiving the
influence of such language, and desirous of producing the same effect
without being animated by the same passion, set themselves to a
mechanical adoption of these figures of speech, and made use of them,
sometimes with propriety, but much more frequently applied them
to feelings and thoughts with which they had no natural connexion
whatsoever. A language was thus insensibly produced, differing
materially from the real language of men in _any situation_. The
Reader or Hearer of this distorted language found himself in a
perturbed and unusual state of mind: when affected by the genuine
language of passion he had been in a perturbed and unusual state of
mind also: in both cases he was willing that his common judgement and
understanding should be laid asleep, and he had no instinctive and
infallible perception of the true to make him reject the false; the
one served as a passport for the other. The emotion was in both cases
delightful, and no wonder if he confounded the one with the other,
and believed them both to be produced by the same, or similar causes.
Besides, the Poet spake to him in the character of a man to be looked
up to, a man of genius and authority. Thus, and from a variety of
other causes, this distorted language was received with admiration;
and Poets, it is probable, who had before contented themselves for the
most part with misapplying only expressions which at first had
been dictated by real passion, carried the abuse still further, and
introduced phrases composed apparently in the spirit of the original
figurative language of passion, yet altogether of their own invention,
and characterized by various degrees of wanton deviation from good
sense and nature.

It is indeed true, that the language of the earliest Poets was felt to
differ materially from ordinary language, because it was the language
of extraordinary occasions; but it was really spoken by men, language
which the Poet himself had uttered when he had been affected by the
events which he described, or which he had heard uttered by those
around him. To this language it is probable that metre of some sort
or other was early superadded. This separated the genuine language of
Poetry still further from common life, so that whoever read or heard
the poems of these earliest Poets felt himself moved in a way in which
he had not been accustomed to be moved in real life, and by causes
manifestly different from those which acted upon him in real life.
This was the great temptation to all the corruptions which have
followed: under the protection of this feeling succeeding Poets
constructed a phraseology which had one thing, it is true, in common
with the genuine language of poetry, namely, that it was not heard in
ordinary conversation; that it was unusual. But the first Poets, as
I have said, spake a language which, though unusual, was still the
language of men. This circumstance, however, was disregarded by their
successors; they found that they could please by easier means:
they became proud of modes of expression which they themselves had
invented, and which were uttered only by themselves. In process of
time metre became a symbol or promise of this unusual language, and
whoever took upon him to write in metre, according as he possessed
more or less of true poetic genius, introduced less or more of this
adulterated phraseology into his compositions, and the true and the
false were inseparately interwoven until, the taste of men becoming
gradually perverted, this language was received as a natural language:
and at length, by the influence of books upon men, did to a certain
degree really become so. Abuses of this kind were imported from one
nation to another, and with the progress of refinement this diction
became daily more and more corrupt, thrusting out of sight the plain
humanities of nature by a motley masquerade of tricks, quaintnesses,
hieroglyphics, and enigmas.

It would not be uninteresting to point out the causes of the pleasure
given by this extravagant and absurd diction. It depends upon a great
variety of causes, but upon none, perhaps, more than its influence in
impressing a notion of the peculiarity and exaltation of the Poet's
character, and in flattering the Reader's self-love by bringing
him nearer to a sympathy with that character; an effect which is
accomplished by unsettling ordinary habits of thinking, and thus
assisting the Reader to approach to that perturbed and dizzy state
of mind in which if he does not find himself, he imagines that he is
_balked_ of a peculiar enjoyment which poetry can and ought to bestow.

The sonnet quoted from Gray, in the Preface, except the lines printed
in italics, consists of little else but this diction, though not of
the worst kind; and indeed, if one may be permitted to say so, it is
far too common in the best writers both ancient and modern. Perhaps
in no way, by positive example could more easily be given a notion
of what I mean by the phrase _poetic diction_ than by referring to a
comparison between the metrical paraphrase which we have of passages
in the Old and New Testament, and those passages as they exist in
our common Translation. See Pope's _Messiah_ throughout; Prior's 'Did
sweeter sounds adorn my flowing tongue,' &c. &c. 'Though I speak with
the tongues of men and of angels,' &c. &c, 1st Corinthians, ch. xiii.
By way of immediate example take the following of Dr. Johnson:

Turn on the prudent Ant thy heedless eyes,
Observe her labours, Sluggard, and be wise;
No stern command, no monitory voice,
Prescribes her duties, or directs her choice;
Yet, timely provident, she hastes away
To snatch the blessings of a plenteous day;
When fruitful Summer loads the teeming plain,
She crops the harvest, and she stores the grain.
How long shall sloth usurp thy useless hours,
Unnerve thy vigour, and enchain thy powers?
While artful shades thy downy couch enclose,
And soft solicitation courts repose,
Amidst the drowsy charms of dull delight,
Year chases year with unremitted flight,
Till Want now following, fraudulent and slow,
Shall spring to seize thee, like an ambush'd foe.

From this hubbub of words pass to the original 'Go to the Ant, thou
Sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide,
overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth
her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O Sluggard?
when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little
slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep. So shall thy poverty
come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man' Proverbs,
ch. vi.

One more quotation, and I have done. It is from Cowper's Verses
supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk:

Religion! what treasure untold
Resides in that heavenly word!
More precious than silver and gold,
Or all that this earth can afford
But the sound of the church-going bell
These valleys and rocks never heard,
Ne'er sighed at the sound of a knell,
Or smiled when a sabbath appeared
Ye winds, that have made me your sport
Convey to this desolate shore
Some cordial endearing report
Of a land I must visit no more
My friends, do they now and then send
A wish or a thought after me?
O tell me I yet have a friend,
Though a friend I am never to see

This passage is quoted as an instance of three different styles of
composition. The first four lines are poorly expressed, some Critics
would call the language prosaic; the fact is, it would be bad prose,
so bad, that it is scarcely worse in metre. The epithet 'church-going'
applied to a bell, and that by so chaste a writer as Cowper, is an
instance of the strange abuses which Poets have introduced into their
language, till they and their Readers take them as matters of course,
if they do not single them out expressly as objects of admiration.
The two lines 'Ne'er sighed at the sound,' &c., are, in my opinion, an
instance of the language of passion wrested from its proper use, and,
from the mere circumstance of the composition being in metre, applied
upon an occasion that does not justify such violent expressions; and I
should condemn the passage, though perhaps few Readers will agree with
me, as vicious poetic diction. The last stanza is throughout admirably
expressed: it would be equally good whether in prose or verse, except
that the Reader has an exquisite pleasure in seeing such natural
language so naturally connected with metre. The beauty of this stanza
tempts me to conclude with a principle which ought never to be
lost sight of, and which has been my chief guide in all I have
said,--namely, that in works of _imagination and sentiment_, for of
these only have I been treating, in proportion as ideas and feelings
are valuable, whether the composition be in prose or in verse, they
require and exact one and the same language. Metre is but adventitious
to composition, and the phraseology for which that passport is
necessary, even where it may be graceful at all will be little valued
by the judicious.



The powers requisite for the production of poetry are: first, those
of Observation and Description,--i.e. the ability to observe with
accuracy things as they are in themselves, and with fidelity to
describe them, unmodified by any passion or feeling existing in the
mind of the describer; whether the things depicted be actually present
to the senses, or have a place only in the memory. This power, though
indispensable to a Poet, is one which he employs only in submission
to necessity, and never for a continuance of time: as its exercise
supposes all the higher qualities of the mind to be passive, and in
a state of subjection to external objects, much in the same way as
a translator or engraver ought to be to his original. 2ndly,
Sensibility,--which, the more exquisite it is, the wider will be the
range of a poet's perceptions; and the more will he be incited to
observe objects, both as they exist in themselves and as re-acted upon
by his own mind. (The distinction between poetic and human sensibility
has been marked in the character of the Poet delineated in the
original preface.) 3rdly, Reflection,--which makes the Poet acquainted
with the value of actions, images, thoughts, and feelings; and assists
the sensibility in perceiving their connexion with each other. 4thly,
Imagination and Fancy,--to modify, to create, and to associate. 5thly,
Invention,--by which characters are composed out of materials supplied
by observation; whether of the Poet's own heart and mind, or of
external life and nature; and such incidents and situations produced
as are most impressive to the imagination, and most fitted to do
justice to the characters, sentiments, and passions, which the Poet
undertakes to illustrate. And, lastly, Judgement, to decide how
and where, and in what degree, each of these faculties ought to be
exerted; so that the less shall not be sacrificed to the greater; nor
the greater, slighting the less, arrogate, to its own injury, more
than its due. By judgement, also, is determined what are the laws and
appropriate graces of every species of composition.[3]

The materials of Poetry, by these powers collected and produced, are
cast, by means of various moulds, into divers forms. The moulds may be
enumerated, and the forms specified, in the following order. 1st, The
Narrative,--including the Epopoeia, the Historic Poem, the Tale, the
Romance, the Mock-heroic, and, if the spirit of Homer will tolerate
such neighbourhood, that dear production of our days, the metrical
Novel. Of this Class, the distinguishing mark is, that the Narrator,
however liberally his speaking agents be introduced, is himself the
source from which everything primarily flows. Epic Poets, in order
that their mode of composition may accord with the elevation of their
subject, represent themselves as _singing_ from the inspiration of the
Muse, 'Anna virumque _cano_;' but this is a fiction, in modern times,
of slight value: the _Iliad_ or the _Paradise Lost_ would gain little
in our estimation by being chanted. The other poets who belong to this
class are commonly content to _tell_ their tale;--so that of the
whole it may be affirmed that they neither require nor reject the
accompaniment of music.

2ndly, The Dramatic,--consisting of Tragedy, Historic Drama, Comedy,
and Masque, in which the Poet does not appear at all in his own
person, and where the whole action is carried on by speech and
dialogue of the agents; music being admitted only incidentally and
rarely. The Opera may be placed here, inasmuch as it proceeds by
dialogue; though depending, to the degree that it does, upon music, it
has a strong claim to be ranked with the lyrical. The characteristic
and Impassioned Epistle, of which Ovid and Pope have given examples,
considered as a species of monodrama, may, without impropriety, be
placed in this class.

3rdly, The Lyrical,--containing the Hymn, the Ode, the Elegy, the
Song, and the Ballad; in all which, for the production of their _full_
effect, an accompaniment of music is indispensable.

4thly, The Idyllium,--descriptive chiefly either of the processes and
appearances of external nature, as the _Seasons_ of Thomson; or
of characters, manners, and sentiments, as are Shenstone's
_Schoolmistress, The Cotter's Saturday Night_ of Burns, _The Twa Dogs_
of the same Author; or of these in conjunction with the appearances
of Nature, as most of the pieces of Theocritus, the _Allegro_ and
_Penseroso_ of Milton, Beattie's _Minstrel_, Goldsmith's _Deserted
Village_. The Epitaph, the Inscription, the Sonnet, most of
the epistles of poets writing in their own persons, and all
loco-descriptive poetry, belonging to this class.

5thly, Didactic,--the principal object of which is direct instruction;
as the Poem of Lucretius, the _Georgics_ of Virgil, _The Fleece_ of
Dyer, Mason's _English Garden_, &c.

And, lastly, philosophical Satire, like that of Horace and Juvenal;
personal and occasional Satire rarely comprehending sufficient of the
general in the individual to be dignified with the name of poetry.

Out of the three last has been constructed a composite order, of which
Young's _Night Thoughts_, and Cowper's _Task_, are excellent examples.

It is deducible from the above, that poems apparently miscellaneous,
may with propriety be arranged either with reference to the powers of
mind _predominant_ in the production of them; or to the mould in which
they are cast; or, lastly, to the subjects to which they relate. From
each of these considerations, the following Poems have been divided
into classes; which, that the work may more obviously correspond with
the course of human life, and for the sake of exhibiting in it the
three requisites of a legitimate whole, a beginning, a middle, and an
end, have been also arranged, as far as it was possible, according to
an order of time, commencing with Childhood, and terminating with
Old Age, Death, and Immortality. My guiding wish was, that the small
pieces of which these volumes consist, thus discriminated, might be
regarded under a two-fold view; as composing an entire work within
themselves, and as adjuncts to the philosophical Poem, _The Recluse_.
This arrangement has long presented itself habitually to my own mind.
Nevertheless, I should have preferred to scatter the contents of these
volumes at random, if I had been persuaded that, by the plan adopted,
anything material would be taken from the natural effect of the
pieces, individually, on the mind of the unreflecting Reader. I trust
there is a sufficient variety in each class to prevent this; while,
for him who reads with reflection, the arrangement will serve as a
commentary unostentatiously directing his attention to my purposes,
both particular and general. But, as I wish to guard against the
possibility of misleading by this classification, it is proper first
to remind the Reader, that certain poems are placed according to
the powers of mind, in the Author's conception, predominant in the
production of them; _predominant_, which implies the exertion of other
faculties in less degree. Where there is more imagination than fancy
in a poem, it is placed under the head of imagination, and _vice
versa_. Both the above classes might without impropriety have been
enlarged from that consisting of 'Poems founded on the Affections;'
as might this latter from those, and from the class 'proceeding from
Sentiment and Reflection.' The most striking characteristics of each
piece, mutual illustration, variety, and proportion, have governed me

None of the other Classes, except those of Fancy and Imagination,
require any particular notice. But a remark of general application may
be made. All Poets, except the dramatic, have been in the practice of
feigning that their works were composed to the music of the harp or
lyre: with what degree of affectation this has done in modern times, I
leave to the judicious to determine. For my own part, I have not been
disposed to violate probability so far, or to make such a large
demand upon the Reader's charity. Some of these pieces are essentially
lyrical; and, therefore, cannot have their due force without a
supposed musical accompaniment; but, in much the greatest part, as a
substitute for the classic lyre or romantic harp, I require nothing
more than an animated or impassioned recitation, adapted to the
subject. Poems, however humble in their kind, if they be good in that
kind, cannot read themselves; the law of long syllable and short must
not be so inflexible,--the letter of metre must not be so impassive
to the spirit of versification,--as to deprive the Reader of all
voluntary power to modulate, in subordination to the sense, the music
of the poem;--in the same manner as his mind is left at liberty, and
even summoned, to act upon its thoughts and images. But, though the
accompaniment of a musical instrument be frequently dispensed with,
the true Poet does not therefore abandon his privilege distinct from
that of the mere Proseman;

He murmurs near the running brooks
A music sweeter than their own.

Let us come now to the consideration of the words Fancy and
Imagination, as employed in the classification of the following Poems.
'A man,' says an intelligent author, 'has imagination in proportion
as he can distinctly copy in idea the impressions of sense: it is the
faculty which _images_ within the mind the phenomena of sensation. A
man has fancy in proportion as he can call up, connect, or associate,
at pleasure, those internal images ([Greek: phantazein] is to cause
to appear) so as to complete ideal representations of absent objects.
Imagination is the power of depicting, and fancy of evoking and
combining. The imagination is formed by patient observation; the fancy
by a voluntary activity in shifting the scenery of the mind. The more
accurate the imagination, the more safely may a painter, or a poet,
undertake a delineation, or a description, without the presence of the
objects to be characterized. The more versatile the fancy, the more
original and striking will be the decorations produced.'--_British
Synonyms discriminated, by W. Taylor_.

Is not this as if a man should undertake to supply an account of
a building, and be so intent upon what he had discovered of the
foundation, as to conclude his task without once looking up at the
superstructure? Here, as in other instances throughout the volume, the
judicious Author's mind is enthralled by Etymology; he takes up the
original word as his guide and escort, and too often does not perceive
how soon he becomes its prisoner, without liberty to tread in any
path but that to which it confines him. It is not easy to find out
how imagination, thus explained, differs from distinct remembrance of
images; or fancy from quick and vivid recollection of them: each is
nothing more than a mode of memory. If the two words bear the above
meaning, and no other, what term is left to designate that faculty of
which the Poet is 'all compact;' he whose eyes glances from earth to
heaven, whose spiritual attributes body forth what his pen is prompt
in turning to shape; or what is left to characterize Fancy,
as insinuating herself into the heart of objects with creative
activity?--Imagination, in the sense of the word as giving title to
a class of the following Poems, has no reference to images that are
merely a faithful copy, existing in the mind, of absent external
objects; but is a word of higher import, denoting operations of the
mind upon those objects, and processes of creation or of composition,
governed by certain fixed laws. I proceed to illustrate my meaning by
instances. A parrot _hangs_ from the wires of his cage by his beak or
by his claws; or a monkey from the bough of a tree by his paws or
his tail. Each creature does so literally and actually. In the first
Eclogue of Virgil, the shepherd, thinking of the time when he is to
take leave of his farm, thus addresses his goats:--

Non ego vos posthac viridi projectus in antro
Dumosa _pendere_ procul de rupe videbo.
----half way down
_Hangs_ one who gathers samphire,

is the well-known expression of Shakespeare, delineating an ordinary
image upon the cliffs of Dover. In these two instances is a slight
exertion of the faculty which I denominate imagination, in the use
of one word: neither the goats nor the samphire-gatherer do literally
hang, as does the parrot or the monkey; but, presenting to the senses
something of such an appearance, the mind in its activity, for its own
gratification, contemplates them as hanging.

As when far off at sea a fleet descried
_Hangs_ in the clouds, by equinoctial winds
Close sailing from Bengala, or the isles
Of Ternate or Tidore, whence merchants bring
Their spicy drugs; they on the trading flood
Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape
Ply, stemming nightly toward the Pole; so seemed
Far off the flying Fiend.

Here is the full strength of the imagination involved in the word
_hangs_, and exerted upon the whole image: First, the fleet, an
aggregate of many ships, is represented as one mighty person, whose
track, we know and feel, is upon the waters; but, taking advantage
of its appearance to the senses, the Poet dares to represent it as
_hanging in the clouds_, both for the gratification of the mind in
contemplating the image itself, and in reference to the motion and
appearance of the sublime objects to which it is compared.

From impressions of sight we will pass to those of sound; which,
as they must necessarily be of a less definite character, shall be
selected from these volumes:

Over his own sweet voice the Stock-dove _broods_;

of the same bird,

His voice was _buried_ among trees,
Yet to be come at by the breeze;

O, Cuckoo I shall I call thee _Bird_,
Or but a wandering _Voice_?

The stock-dove is said to _coo_, a sound well imitating the note
of the bird; but, by the intervention of the metaphor _broods_, the
affections are called in by the imagination to assist in marking the
manner in which the bird reiterates and prolongs her soft note, as if
herself delighting to listen to it, and participating of a still and
quiet satisfaction, like that which may be supposed inseparable from
the continuous process of incubation. 'His voice was buried among
trees,' a metaphor expressing the love of _seclusion_ by which this
Bird is marked; and characterizing its note as not partaking of the
shrill and the piercing, and therefore more easily deadened by the
intervening shade; yet a note so peculiar and withal so pleasing, that
the breeze, gifted with that love of the sound which the Poet feels,
penetrates the shades in which it is entombed, and conveys it to the
ear of the listener.

Shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering _Voice_?

This concise interrogation characterizes the seeming ubiquity of
the voice of the cuckoo, and dispossesses the creature almost of a
corporeal existence; the Imagination being tempted to this exertion of
her power by a consciousness in the memory that the cuckoo is almost
perpetually heard throughout the season of spring, but seldom becomes
an object of sight.

Thus far of images independent of each other, and immediately endowed
by the mind with properties that do not inhere in them, upon an
incitement from properties and qualities the existence of which is
inherent and obvious. These processes of imagination are carried
on either by conferring additional properties upon an object, or
abstracting from it some of those which it actually possesses, and
thus enabling it to react upon the mind which hath performed the
process, like a new existence.

I pass from the Imagination acting upon an individual image to
a consideration of the same faculty employed upon images in a
conjunction by which they modify each other. The Reader has already
had a fine instance before him in the passage quoted from Virgil,
where the apparently perilous situation of the goat, hanging upon
the shaggy precipice, is contrasted with that of the shepherd
contemplating it from the seclusion of the cavern in which he lies
stretched at ease and in security. Take these images separately, and
how unaffecting the picture compared with that produced by their being
thus connected with, and opposed to, each other!

As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie
Couched on the bald top of an eminence,
Wonder to all who do the same espy
By what means it could thither come, and whence,
So that it seems a thing endued with sense,
Like a sea-beast crawled forth, which on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun himself.

Such seemed this Man; not all alive or dead
Nor all asleep, in his extreme old age.

* * * * *

Motionless as a cloud the old Man stood,
That heareth not the loud winds when they call,
And moveth altogether if it move at all.

In these images, the conferring, the abstracting, and the modifying
powers of the Imagination, immediately and mediately acting, are all
brought into conjunction. The stone is endowed with something of the
power of life to approximate it to the sea-beast; and the sea-beast
stripped of some of its vital qualities to assimilate it to the stone;
which intermediate image is thus treated for the purpose of bringing
the original image, that of the stone, to a nearer resemblance to the
figure and condition of the aged Man; who is divested of so much of
the indications of life and motion as to bring him to the point where
the two objects unite and coalesce in just comparison. After what has
been said, the image of the cloud need not be commented upon.

Thus far of an endowing or modifying power: but the Imagination also
shapes and _creates_; and how? By innumerable processes; and in none
does it more delight than in that of consolidating numbers into
unity, and dissolving and separating unity into number,--alternations
proceeding from, and governed by, a sublime consciousness of the
soul in her own mighty and almost divine powers. Recur to the passage
already cited from Milton. When the compact Fleet, as one Person, has
been introduced 'sailing from Bengala,' 'They,' i.e. the 'merchants,'
representing the fleet resolved into a multitude of ships, 'ply' their
voyage towards the extremities of the earth: 'So' (referring to the
word 'As' in the commencement) 'seemed the flying Fiend'; the image
of his Person acting to recombine the multitude of ships into one
body,--the point from which the comparison set out. 'So seemed,' and
to whom seemed? To the heavenly Muse who dictates the poem, to the eye
of the Poet's mind, and to that of the Reader, present at one moment
in the wide Ethiopian, and the next in the solitudes, then first
broken in upon, of the infernal regions!

Modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis.

Hear again this mighty Poet,--speaking of the Messiah going forth to
expel from heaven the rebellious angels,

Attended by ten thousand thousand Saints
He onward came: far off his coming shone,--

the retinue of Saints, and the Person of the Messiah himself, lost
almost and merged in the splendour of that indefinite abstraction 'His

As I do not mean here to treat this subject further than to throw some
light upon the present Volumes, and especially upon one division of
them, I shall spare myself and the Reader the trouble of considering
the Imagination as it deals with thoughts and sentiments, as it
regulates the composition of characters, and determines the course
of actions: I will not consider it (more than I have already done by
implication) as that power which, in the language of one of my most
esteemed Friends, 'draws all things to one; which makes things animate
or inanimate, beings with their attributes, subjects with their
accessories, take one colour and serve to one effect[4].' The grand
storehouses of enthusiastic and meditative Imagination, of poetical,
as contra-distinguished from human and dramatic Imagination, are the
prophetic and lyrical parts of the Holy Scriptures, and the works of
Milton; to which I cannot forbear to add to those of Spenser. I select
these writers in preference to those of ancient Greece and Rome,
because the anthropomorphitism of the Pagan religion subjected the
minds of the greatest poets in those countries too much to the bondage
of definite form; from which the Hebrews were preserved by their
abhorrence of idolatry. This abhorrence was almost as strong in our
great epic Poet, both from circumstances of his life, and from the
constitution of his mind. However imbued the surface might be with
classical literature, he was a Hebrew in soul; and all things tended
in him towards the sublime. Spenser, of a gentler nature, maintained
his freedom by aid of his allegorical spirit, at one time inciting him
to create persons out of abstractions; and, at another, by a
superior effort of genius, to give the universality and permanence of
abstractions to his human beings, by means of attributes and emblems
that belong to the highest moral truths and the purest sensations,--of
which his character of Una is a glorious example. Of the human and
dramatic Imagination the works of Shakespeare are an inexhaustible

I tax not you, ye Elements, with unkindness,
I never gave you kingdoms, call'd you Daughters!

And if, bearing in mind the many Poets distinguished by this prime
quality, whose names I omit to mention; yet justified by recollection
of the insults which the ignorant, the incapable, and the
presumptuous, have heaped upon these and my other writings, I may be
permitted to anticipate the judgment of posterity upon myself, I
shall declare (censurable, I grant, if the notoriety of the fact above
stated does not justify me) that I have given in these unfavourable
times evidence of exertions of this faculty upon its worthiest
objects, the external universe, the moral and religious sentiments of
Man, his natural affections, and his acquired passions; which have
the same ennobling tendency as the productions of men, in this kind,
worthy to be holden in undying remembrance.

To the mode in which Fancy has already been characterized as the power
of evoking and combining, or, as my friend Mr. Coleridge has styled
it, 'the aggregative and associative power,' my objection is only that
the definition is too general. To aggregate and to associate, to evoke
and to combine, belong as well to the Imagination as to the Fancy; but
either the materials evoked and combined are different; or they are
brought together under a different law, and for a different purpose.
Fancy does not require that the materials which she makes use of
should be susceptible of change in their constitution, from her touch;
and, where they admit of modification, it is enough for her purpose if
it be slight, limited, and evanescent. Directly the reverse of these,
are the desires and demands of the Imagination. She recoils from
everything but the plastic, the pliant, and the indefinite. She leaves
it to Fancy to describe Queen Mab as coming,

In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman.

Having to speak of stature, she does not tell you that her gigantic
Angel was as tall as Pompey's Pillar; much less that he was twelve
cubits, or twelve hundred cubits high; or that his dimensions equalled
those of Teneriffe or Atlas;--because these, and if they were
a million times as high it would be the same, are bounded: The
expression is, 'His stature reached the sky!' the illimitable
firmament!--When the Imagination frames a comparison, if it does
not strike on the first presentation, a sense of the truth of the
likeness, from the moment that it is perceived, grows--and continues
to grow--upon the mind; the resemblance depending less upon outline
of form and feature, than upon expression and effect; less upon
casual and outstanding, than upon inherent and internal, properties:
moreover, the images invariably modify each other.--The law under
which the processes of Fancy are carried on is as capricious as
the accidents of things, and the effects are surprising, playful,
ludicrous, amusing, tender, or pathetic, as the objects happen to be
appositely produced or fortunately combined. Fancy depends upon
the rapidity and profusion with which she scatters her thoughts and
images; trusting that their number, and the felicity with which they
are linked together, will make amends for the want of individual
value: or she prides herself upon the curious subtilty and the
successful elaboration with which she can detect their lurking
affinities. If she can win you over to her purpose, and impart to
you her feelings, she cares not how unstable or transitory may be her
influence, knowing that it will not be out of her power to resume
it upon an apt occasion. But the Imagination is conscious of an
indestructible dominion;--the Soul may fall away from it, not being
able to sustain its grandeur; but, if once felt and acknowledged, by
no act of any other faculty of the mind can it be relaxed, impaired,
or diminished.--Fancy is given to quicken and to beguile the
temporal part of our nature, Imagination to incite and to support the
eternal.--Yet is it not the less true that Fancy, as she is an active,
is also, under her own laws and in her own spirit, a creative faculty?
In what manner Fancy ambitiously aims at a rivalship with Imagination,
and Imagination stoops to work with the materials of Fancy, might be
illustrated from the compositions of all eloquent writers, whether in
prose or verse; and chiefly from those of our own Country. Scarcely a
page of the impassioned parts of Bishop Taylor's Works can be opened
that shall not afford examples.--Referring the Reader to those
inestimable volumes, I will content myself with placing a conceit
(ascribed to Lord Chesterfield) in contrast with a passage from the
_Paradise Lost_:

The dews of the evening most carefully shun,
They are the tears of the sky for the loss of the sun.

After the transgression of Adam, Milton, with other appearances of
sympathizing Nature, thus marks the immediate consequence,

Sky lowered, and, muttering thunder, some sad drops
Wept at completion of the mortal sin.

The associating link is the same in each instance: Dew and rain, not
distinguishable from the liquid substance of tears, are employed as
indications of sorrow. A flash of surprise is the effect in the former
case; a flash of surprise, and nothing more; for the nature of things
does not sustain the combination. In the latter, the effects from the
act, of which there is this immediate consequence and visible
sign, are so momentous, that the mind acknowledges the justice and
reasonableness of the sympathy in nature so manifested; and the sky
weeps drops of water as if with human eyes, as 'Earth had before
trembled from her entrails, and Nature given a second groan.'

Finally, I will refer to Cotton's _Ode upon Winter_, an admirable
composition, though stained with some peculiarities of the age in
which he lived, for a general illustration of the characteristics of
Fancy. The middle part of this ode contains a most lively description
of the entrance of Winter, with his retinue, as 'A palsied king,' and
yet a military monarch,--advancing for conquest with his army; the
several bodies of which, and their arms and equipments, are described
with a rapidity of detail, and a profusion of _fanciful_ comparisons,
which indicate on the part of the poet extreme activity of intellect,
and a correspondent hurry of delightful feeling. Winter retires from
the foe into his fortress, where

a magazine
Of sovereign juice is cellared in;
Liquor that will the siege maintain
Should Phoebus ne'er return again.

Though myself a water drinker, I cannot resist the pleasure of
transcribing what follows, as an instance still more happy of Fancy
employed in the treatment of feeling than, in its preceding passages,
the Poem supplies of her management of forms.

'Tis that, that gives the poet rage,
And thaws the gelid blood of age;
Matures the young, restores the old,
And makes the fainting coward bold.

It lays the careful head to rest,
Calms palpitations in the breast,
Renders our lives' misfortune sweet;

* * * * *

Then let the chill Sirocco blow,
And gird us round with hills of snow,
Or else go whistle to the shore,
And make the hollow mountains roar,

Whilst we together jovial sit
Careless, and crowned with mirth and wit,
Where, though bleak winds confine us home
Our fancies round the world shall roam.

We'll think of all the Friends we know,
And drink to all worth drinking to;
When having drunk all thine and mine,
We rather shall want healths than wine.

But where Friends fail us, we'll supply
Our friendships with our charity;
Men that remote in sorrows live,
Shall by our lusty brimmers thrive.

We'll drink the wanting into wealth,
And those that languish into health,
The afflicted into joy; th' opprest
Into security and rest.

The worthy in disgrace shall find
Favour return again more kind,
And in restraint who stifled lie,
Shall taste the air of liberty.

The brave shall triumph in success,
The lover shall have mistresses,
Poor unregarded Virtue, praise,
And the neglected Poet, bays.

Thus shall our healths do others good,
Whilst we ourselves do all we would;
For, freed from envy and from care,
What would we be but what we are?

When I sate down to write this Preface, it was my intention to have
made it more comprehensive; but, thinking that I ought rather to
apologize for detaining the reader so long, I will here conclude.

[Footnote 3: As sensibility to harmony of numbers, and the power
of producing it, are invariably attendants upon the faculties above
specified, nothing has been said upon those requisites.]

[Footnote 4: Charles Lamb upon the genius of Hogarth.]



With the young of both sexes, Poetry is, like love, a passion; but,
for much the greater part of those who have been proud of its power
over their minds, a necessity soon arises of breaking the pleasing
bondage; or it relaxes of itself;--the thoughts being occupied in
domestic cares, or the time engrossed by business. Poetry then becomes
only an occasional recreation; while to those whose existence passes
away in a course of fashionable pleasure, it is a species of luxurious
amusement. In middle and declining age, a scattered number of serious
persons resort to poetry, as to religion, for a protection against
the pressure of trivial employments, and as a consolation for the
afflictions of life. And, lastly, there are many, who, having been
enamoured of this art in their youth, have found leisure, after
youth was spent, to cultivate general literature; in which poetry has
continued to be comprehended _as a study_.

Into the above classes the Readers of poetry may be divided; Critics
abound in them all; but from the last only can opinions be collected
of absolute value, and worthy to be depended upon, as prophetic of the
destiny of a new work. The young, who in nothing can escape delusion,
are especially subject to it in their intercourse with Poetry. The
cause, not so obvious as the fact is unquestionable, is the same as
that from which erroneous judgements in this art, in the minds of men
of all ages, chiefly proceed; but upon Youth it operates with peculiar
force. The appropriate business of poetry (which, nevertheless, if
genuine, is as permanent as pure science), her appropriate employment,
her privilege and her _duty_, is to treat of things not as they _are_,
but as they _appear_; not as they exist in themselves, but as they
_seem_ to exist to the _senses_, and to the _passions_. What a
world of delusion does this acknowledged obligation prepare for the
inexperienced! what temptations to go astray are here held forth for
them whose thoughts have been little disciplined by the understanding,
and whose feelings revolt from the sway of reason!--When a juvenile
Reader is in the height of his rapture with some vicious passage,
should experience throw in doubts, or common sense suggest suspicions,
a lurking consciousness that the realities of the Muse are but shows,
and that her liveliest excitements are raised by transient shocks
of conflicting feeling and successive assemblages of contradictory
thoughts--is ever at hand to justify extravagance, and to sanction
absurdity. But, it may be asked, as these illusions are unavoidable,
and, no doubt, eminently useful to the mind as a process, what good
can be gained by making observations, the tendency of which is to
diminish the confidence of youth in its feelings, and thus to abridge
its innocent and even profitable pleasures? The reproach implied in
the question could not be warded off, if Youth were incapable of being
delighted with what is truly excellent; or, if these errors always
terminated of themselves in due season. But, with the majority, though
their force be abated, they continue through life. Moreover, the fire
of youth is too vivacious an element to be extinguished or damped by a
philosophical remark; and, while there is no danger that what has been
said will be injurious or painful to the ardent and the confident,
it may prove beneficial to those who, being enthusiastic, are, at the
same time, modest and ingenuous. The intimation may unite with their
own misgivings to regulate their sensibility, and to bring in, sooner
than it would otherwise have arrived, a more discreet and sound

If it should excite wonder that men of ability, in later life, whose
understandings have been rendered acute by practice in affairs, should


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