Page images

stitutes the point of reference, and the cli- essential to the poet, were it possible that max of all that we admire and love; and any human being, even of moderately cultherefore it is of the utmost importance to tivated understanding, commanding the use the poet, that bis standard of excellence of language, and acquainted with the prin. should not only be acknowledged as such by ciples of taste, should have been so entirely the enlightened portion of mankind, but that excluded from all contemplation of what is it should be as high as the human mind can admirable, both in the external world and in reach, and at the same time so deeply graven human nature, as to have conceived no just upon liis own heart, that neither ambition, idea either of physical or moral beauty. It hope, nor fear, nor any other passion or af- is however of immense importance to the fection to which he is liable, can obliterate poet that he should have formed an early the impression, or supplant it by another. and intimate acquaintance with subjects

All our ideas of intellectual as well as regarded as poetical by the unanimour moral good are of a complex nature, arising opinion of mankind—that he should have not so much out of impressions made by gazed upon the sunset until his very soul things themselves, as by their relations, as was rapt in the blaze of its golden glorysociations, and general fitness or unfitness that he should have lived in the quiet smile one to another; hence it follows that the of the placid moon, and looked up to the mind must be naturally qualified for receiv- stars of night, until he forgot his own idening decided impressions of simple ideas, so tity, and became like a world of light as afterwards to make use of them, in draw- amongst the shining host-that he should ing clear deductions, by comparing them have watched the silvery flow of murmuring one with another, and combining them to water, until his anxious thoughts of present gether. How, for instance, would the poet things were lulled to rest, and the tide of describe the general influence of evening memory rolled on, pure, and clear, and hartwilight, if he had never really felt its tran- monious, as the woodland stream--that he quillizing power as it extends over the ex should have listened to the glad voices of ternal world, and reaches even to the heart ? the birds of spring, until his own was minor how would he be able to convey a clear gled with the universal melody of nature, idea of the virtue of gratitude, if he had never and strains of gratitude and joy burst forth known the expansion of generous feeling, from his overflowing heart—that he should the ardent hope of imparting happiness, and have seen the woods in their summer vesture the disappointment of finding that happiness of varied green, and felt how beautiful is unappropriated, or received with contempt? | the garment of nature—that he should have

That there are men of common percep- found the nest of the timid bird, and obtions, who “travel fr

Dan to Beersheba,” served how tender its maternal love, and saying that all is barren, and that there are how wonderful is the instinct with which the men of more than ordinary talent, who, de- frailest creatures are endowed—that he ficient neither in imagination, power, nor should have stood by the wave-beaten shore taste, are yet unable to write poetry, is when a galley with full sails swept along evidently owing to their want of capability the foaming tide, and impressed upon the for receiving lively impressions; for wherever tablet of his heart a perfect picture of masuch impressions exist, with sufficient ima- jesty and grace-that he should have witgination to arrange and combine them so as nessed the tear of agony exchanged for the to create fresh images, with power to em smile of hope, and acknowledged-feelingly body them in forcible words, and taste to acknowledged, how blessed are the tender render those words appropriate and pure, offices of mercy—that he should have heard either poetry itself, or highly poetical prose, the cry of the oppressed, and seen the must be the natural language of such a breaking of their chains, with the inmost mind.

chords of his heart's best feelings thrilling We should say that opportunity for re at the shout of liberty--that he should have ceiving agreeable impressions, as well as trembled beneath the desolating storm, and capacity for receiving them deeply, was hailed the opening in the tempestuous clouds

from which the mild radiance of returning has been possessed, in an eminent degree, peace looked down-that he should have of the faculty of receiving and remembering hent over the slumbering infant, until his impressione. imagination wandered from the innocence of carth to the purity of heaven-that he should have contemplated female beauty in its loveliest, holiest form, and then by a slight transition, passed in amongst the an

IMAGINATION. gelic choir, and tuned his harp to celebrate its praise, where beauty is the least of the Imagination is the next quahfication esattributes of excellence-in fine, that he sential in the poetic art. As a faculty, imshould have bathed in the fount of nature, agination is called creative, because it forms and tasted of the springs of feeling at their new images out of materials with which different sources, choosing out the sweetest, impression has stored the mind, and multithe purest, and the most invigorating, for plies such images to an endless variety by the delight of mankind, and the perpetual abstracting from them some of their qualirefreshment of his own soul.

ties, and adding others of a different nature; As in society it is impossible to know but that imagination does not actually create whether any particular language has been original and simple ideas, is clear, from the learned until we hear it spoken, so it would fact that no man by the utmost stretch of be difficult to single out individual instances his rational faculties, by intense thought, or of the existence or the absense of deep im- by indefatigable study, can imagine a new pressions ; because a mind may be fully en-sense, a new passion, or a new creature. dowed with this first principle of poetry, and Imagination, therefore, holds the same relayet without the proper medium for making tion to impression, as the finished picture it perceptible to others, we may consequently does to the separate colours with which the never be aware of the presence of such a artist works. Judiciously blended, these capability even where it does exist. It will, colours produce all the different forms and however, eminently qualify the possessor tints observable in the visible world; and for feeling and admiring poetry, and thus it by arranging and combining ideas previously is but fair to suppose, that there are many impressed upon the mind, and shaping out individuals undistinguished in the multitude, such combinations into distinct characters, who possess this faculty in the same degree imagination produces all the splendid imaas the most celebrated poet, but who for gery by which the poet delights and, astonwant of some or all of the three remaining ishes mankind. When he describes an obrequisites, have never been able to bring ject new to his readers, it is seldom new to their faculty to light. Where, amongst the himself, or if new as a whole, it is familiar four requisites for writing poetry, this in its separate parts. If for instance he alone is wanting, however highly cultivated sings the praises of maternal love, he refers the mind of the writer may be, and how to the memory of his own mother, and the ever mature his judgment, this single de- strong impression left upon his mind, by her ficiency will have the effect of rendering solicitude and watchful care-if the song of his poetry monotonous and unimpressive, the nightingale, he recalls the long summer I even where it is, critically speaking, free nights, ere forgetfulness had become a blessi from faults; because it is impossible that he ing, when to listen was more happy than to

should be able to convey to others clear or sleep-if the northern wind, he hears again forcible deas of what he has never felt the hollow roar amongst the leafless boughs, clearly or forcibly himself. Dr. Johnson that was wont to draw in the domestic circle was a poet of this description; and on the around his father's hearth-if the woodland other hand, instead of pointing out instances, music of the winding stream, he knows its we have no hesitation in asserting that liquid voice by the rivulet in which he every man who has written impressively, bathed his insant feet-if the tender offices of ingeniously, powerfully, and with good taste, friendship, he has enjoyed them too feelingly

to forget their influence upon the soul-or borrows from the thoughts of others, or one if the anguish of the broken heart, who has whose images are too ordinary and common not the transcript of sorrow written even on place to interest the reader; because, either the earliest page of life ?

limited by the nature of his own mind to a These are instances in which the poet narrow range of weas, or indolent in the draws immediately from experience, and search of materials necessary for his work, where his task is only to transmit to others he has laid hold of such as fell most readily the impression made upon his own mind; within his grasp, and these being sew and but there are other cases where the idea con- familiar, and unskillully arranged, we recogveyed is derived from a combination of im- nise at once the gross elements of the compressions, and this is more exclusively the pound, and see from whence they have been work of imagination.

obtained. The poet who has never seen a lion may Deficiency of imagination is the reason use the image of one in his verses, with why some, who would otherwise have been almost as much precision as the poet who our best poets, are mannerists. It is true has; because he knows that its attributes they may be so from partiality, almost are courage, ferocity, and power, and he amounting to affection, for some peculiar has been impressed with ideas of these character or style of writing; but that they attributes in other objects. He knows that are blindly addicted to this fault, is much its roar is loud, and deep, and terrific, and more frequently owing to their want of cahe has distinct impressions of the meaning pability to conceive any other mode of conof these words also. Its colour, form, and veying their ideas. general habits, he becomes acquainted with Lord Byron was unquestionably a writer by the same means; and thus he makes of the former class. From the variety of bold to use the name and the character of his style, the splendour of his imagery, and the lion to ornament his verse. In the same the brilliant thoughts that burst upon us as manner he describes the sandy desert, and we read his charmed lines, it is impossible with yet greater precision; because he has to believe that his imagination was incapable only to add to the sands of the sea shore, of any scope, of any height, or any depth, with which he is perfectly familiar, the to which it might be directed by inclination; two qualities of extent and burning heat, but in the characters he portrayed he may and he sees before him at once the wide justly be called a mannerist, because he and sterile wastes of Arabian solitude. Or evidently preferred the uniformly dark and it the human countenance be the subject of melancholy; and chose out from the varied his muse, and he endeavours to invent one impressions of his own life, that sombre hue, that shall be new to himself as well as to so deeply harmonizing with majesty and his readers, it is by borrowing different fea- gloom, which he spread over every object tures from faces which have left their im- in nature, like the lowering thunder clouds press on his mind: and upon the same prin- above the landscape; varying at times the ciple he proceeds through all that mental wide waste of brooding darkness, with short

called creating images, lived but brilliant flashes of sensibility, and and which gives to the works of the highly wit, and lively feeling, like the lurid streaks imaginative, the character of originality; that shoot athwart the tempestuous sky, because from the wide scope and variety of lighting up the world for one brief moment their impressions, they are able to select with ineffable brightness, and then leaving such diversified materials, that when com it to deeper-more impenetrable night. bined, we only see them as a whole, without As instances of mannerism arising from being aware of any previous acquaintance the actual want of imagination, we might with their particular parts.

bring forward a long list of minor poets, as Where distinct impressions, power, and well as inferior writers of every description, taste are present in full force, and imagina- without however descending so low as to tion alone, out of the four requisites, is those who have not consistency of mind wanting, we speak of the poet as one who sufficient for maintaining any particular sys

process, which

tem of thought, or style of composition. all its varied parts it consists of the ordinary Yet of imagination, as well as impression, and familiar features of humanity; and in we are unable to say decidedly that it does thinking of this wayward and capricious benot exist, because, like impression, it only ing, whose accumulated wrongs and misebecomes perceptible to us through the me ries have almost stupified his energies, whose dium of words; and as all individuals are melancholy, natural or induced, has connot able to use this medium with force and verted the “brave, o'erhanging firmament" perspicuity, we necessarily lose many of the into “a pestilent congregation of vapours," Grilliant conceptions of those around us. we feel with him in all his weakness, as We may however assert as an indisputable with a man; and for him with all his faults, fact, that poetry of the highest order was as for a brother. In memory too, how disnever yet produced without the powerful tinct is Hamlet from all the creations of infeexercise of the faculty of imagination. rior minds! He seems to occupy a place in

As a wondersul instance of the force and history, rather than in fiction ; and in searchefficacy of imagination, as well as of im- ing out the principles of human feeling, we pression, power, and taste, we might single refer to bim as to one whose existence was out Milton, were it not that power is more real, rather than ideal. This may be said of essentially the characteristic of his works. all Shakespeare's characters, and so powerHe has equals in the other requisites of a ful is the evidence of truth impressed upon poet, while in power he stands unrivalled. them, that where he chooses to depart from

But, supreme in the region of imagination circumstantial fact, our credence clings to is our iniinitable Shakespeare; and that he him in preference to less imaginative histois inimitable is perhaps the greatest proof rians. of the perfection of his imaginative powers. Perhaps the most remarkable fact in conThe heroes of Byron have been multiplied nection with the genius of this wonderful through so many copies that we have grown writer, is the immense variety of his characweary of the original; but who can imitate ters. In almost all other fictitious writings, the characters of Shakespeare ? And yet we recognize the same hero, appearing in how perfectly human is every individual of different forms—sometimes seated on an eastthe multitude which he has placed before ern throne, and sometimes presiding over us-so human as to be liked and disliked, the rude ceremonial of an Indian wigwam ; according to the peculiar cast of mind in the while the same heroine figures in the “sable persons who pronounce upon them; just in stole” of a priestess, or in the borrowed orthe same manner as characters in ordinary naments of a bandit's bride. But the peolife attract or repel those with whom they ple of Shakespeare amongst whom we seem come in contact. Every one forms the same to live, are in no way beholden to situation opinion of the Corsair, because he has a few or costume, for appearing to be what they distinctive qualities, by which he is known really are. They have an actual identity, and copied ; while no two individuals agree an individuality that would be distinctly perupon the character of Hamlet-a character ceptible in any other circumstances, or unof all others perhaps least capable of imita- der any other disguise. tion. Yet let us ask, is Hamlet less natural One of the favorite painters of our day, or than Conrad ? Quite the reverse. If ever rather of yesterday, has but three heads, the poet's mind conceived a perfectly origi- which serve all his purposes an old man nal man, it is Hamlet, in whose mysterious with white hair and flowing beard, a Grecian nature is displayed the most astonishing female, and a semi-roman hero; and in the effort of imagination; and yet so true is the same way many of our writers make use of dark picture to the principles of human three or more distinctions of character-a nature, that we perceive at once the repre- hero and a heroine-a secondary hero to sentation of a creature formed after the thwart their loves-a secondary heroine to similitude of ourselves.

assist either one party or the other-perThe fact is, that though as a whole it haps to play at cross purposes with her misstands alone, even in the world of fiction, in | tress or her friend: and a fool or buffoon,

(who varies least of all,) to rush upon the and doffs the mantle of enchantment, he stage when more important personages are

stands before us, not debased and powerless, likely to be reduced to a dilemma. But in but full of the native majesty of a nobleShakespeare even the tools are as motley as man and a prince. To his daughter, the the garb they wear; and the women, who pure and spiritual Miranda, one of our moet with other writers vary only from the ten talented, yet most seminine writers,* has so der to the heroic, are of all ages, and of all lately done, perhaps more than justice, that distinctions of character and feeling; while nothing can be added to her own exquiamongst the immense number of men whom sitely poetical description of the island he introduces to our acquaintance, there is no nymph, who has “sprung up into beauty single instance of greater resemblance than beneath the eye of her father, the princely we find in real life. Perhaps the nearest magician; her companions the rocks and approach to similarity is in the blundering woods, the many-shaped, many-tinted clouds absurdities' of justices of the peace, or coun- and the silent stars ; her playmates the try magistrates, a class of people with whom ocean billows that stoop their foamy crests, ( if ancient tales say true”) it is probable and run rippling to kiss her feet.” the poet may have been brought into no very Of Ariel, the “ delicate Ariel,” that most pleasing kind of contact, and hence arises ethereal essence that ever assumed the form the vein of satire which flows through every of beauty in the glowing visions of imagindescription of their conduct and conversa ation, what can we say? so entirely and tion.

purely spiritual is this aerial being, that we Beyond this, there is another striking proof know not whether to speak of him as callof the wonderful extent of Shakespeare's ing up “spirits from the vasty deep,” rolling imaginative powers. Throughout the whole the thunder clouds along the stormy heavof his plays we never recognize the man ens, whelming the helpless mariners in the himself. In the works of almost every other foaming surge, and dashing their “ goodly writer, the author appears

before us,

bark” upon the echoing rocks; or if her, become in some measure acquainted with his gentie, willing, and obedient, hastening on peculiar tone of mind and individual cast of ready service at a moment's bidding, and character ; but Shakespeare is equally at asking for the love, as well as the approbahome with the gloomy or the gay, the licen- tion, of the island lord. We know of notious or the devout, the sublime or the thing within the range of ordinary thought familiar, the terrific or the lovely. We never from which the character of Ariel can be detect him identifying himself either with borrowed, and certainly it is the nearest in the characters, or the sentiments of others; approach to a perfectly original conception, and though we wonder, and speculate upon of any which in our literature adorns the the mind that could thus play with all the page of fiction. feelings of humanity, Shakespeare himself 0: Caliban, too monstrous for a manremains invisible and unknown, like a mas too fiendish for a heast, it may also be said ter magician regulating the machinery which that he is entirely the creature of imaginaat the same time conceals his own person, tion; and indeed throughout the whole of and astonishes the world.

this asiönishing drama, the mind of the auThe Tempest is generally considered the thor seems to have taken the widest possimost imaginative of Shakespeare's playe, ble range of which human genius is capaand certainly it contains little, in scenery, or ble. The very existence of these beings upon circumstance, that can be associated with a solitary island, isolated and shut out from ordinary life. In the character of Prospero, human fellowship, involves, in difficulties as we are forcibly struck with the originality of strange as insurmountable to ordinary pow. the conception; because it combines whaters, the usual course of thought and action, is not to be found elsewhere--the art of a and renders it infinitely more reconcilable to necromancer with the dignity of a man of honour and integrity ; and when he lays down his magic wand, " unites the spell,”

and we

• Mrs. Jameson.

« PreviousContinue »