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His “Imaginary Conversations” have, for years, had an applauding circle, comprising the most enlightened critics of the day, while the student and the man of the world may equally learn wisdom from their pages. In this portion of Mr. Landor's writings may be found the most simple, the most ornamental, the most imaginative, and the most subtle specimens of modern prose composition. In these singular productions, the artist's hand is visible throughout; no careless sentences; all is elaborate, fastidious and classical. There is a refined grandeur, a musical tread, a keen spirit, and added to this, all is presented in a language which is “perspicaciously ornamental.” All is so interwoven that the ornaments seem a natural part of the Grecian structure. It is almost ludicrous to name so feeble a writer as Samuel Rogers, after one so powerful and brilliant as Landor; but the greater marvel is yet to come—that Rogers is infinitely more popular with the masses than the author of Gebir. For one that drinks deep of Landor, there are a dozen who sip the “verse and water” of the “Pleasures of Memory.” Originality is a great bar to the popularity of an author, more especially if he happens to be a poet; sometimes, originality, even though obscured in a peculiar and almost impracticable style, provokes readers to study and find out the puzzle or hidden meaning, as in Carlyle; but in poetry it is not so; and we offer as a proof–Browning. The romantic facts of Mr. Landor's life are too well known to require recapitulation. We shall therefore merely assure our readers that while we feel certain that Mr. Landor will increase in fame as the ages roll, we are as firmly convinced that the feeble commonplace elegancies of Rogers will moulder into their native element, oblivion. Both are correct writers, but one is the correctness of the classic, the other of the schoolmaster—one is refined, spiritual, subtle, compressed poetry: the other is pains-taking laborious verse, not struck off in a divine heat, and then moulded by an artist power into a form of beauty, but forced drop, by drop, from the withered breast of poesie, and carefully preserved by the toiling mechanic of Parnassus. It was told me by a friend of the bard, the beau, the banker, that the poet's uncle adopted him and his brother, and took them into his banking house. After some time he detected the elder one in writing verses: the horror struck merchant, when he died, allowed the detected verse-maker a certain annuity, leaving the business and the bulk of his fortune to Samuel, with the remark that he would never be a poet. We are entirely of the uncle's opinion, and boldly avow our belief that no spiteful nature can, by any process of sublimation, be raised into the poet; Mr. Rogers, therefore, must be content to stand or fall by his own nature—he has the reputation of being a great wit, and of having made some of the severest of modern jokes. The last on record is a remark he made to the younger Miss Cushman, sister to the celebrated actress, and it exemplifies his politeness to the fair sex in a striking manner. The elder Miss Cushman is remarkable for the masculine nature of her genius, and for her assumption of male characters. The younger sister was congratulated one day by Mr. Rogers, on a report current in theatrical circles, of her approaching marriage. She denied the rumor, adding that she did not think it probable she should ever marry, as she had not met any one of a manly tone of mind. If she ever married, added the fastidious fair one, it would be one of a strong masculine nature. “Indeed,”; replied the sallow wit, “then why don't you marry your sister 3’” Mr. Rogers is famous for his breakfasts, where he gathers together the most celebrated men of letters. He is an old bachelor, is very wealthy, and lives in great comfort in St. James' Park. His house is a perfect bijou of curiosities, fine paintings, and objects of virtu. He has lately figured in the newspapers as the valiant defender of his life and limb with an old umbrella, against some old withered dames who attacked him in the public streets: it is reported that these antediluvian spinsters were the nine muses in disguise, resenting his impertinent invasion of their sacred rites. Scandal says, that they are some of the poets old earthly divinities, who were exasperated at his stopping a pension he had allowed them for many years. A comic poet, in the “Tales of Boccaccio,” alludes to the fracas thus:
“And Rogers, unpoetical old fellow,
This couplet has so little poetry that it may probably contain something better; viz. Truth; and this of course relieves the poets' character of the scandal, saving his morals at the expense of sacrilege to the “Sacred Nine.”
Some fifteen years ago two youths walked into the shop of Mr. Effingham Wilson, publisher, of the Royal Exchange, London, and after considerable blushing, asked him, with much deference, to publish a volume of Poems, their joint efforts. With that coy reluctance on his part, so natural to a publisher, he agreed, and the manuscript was handed to his printer. As the work advanced one of these Siamese Twins, (son of Mr. Milman, the poet,) withdrew his verses from the venture, and consequently, Alfred Tennyson appeared in the world of poetry alone. A thin volume, to be sure—some one hundred and twenty pages, but it was the fine point of a wedge which has gradually opened the world to him. It is needless to dwell upon the want of sympathy with which the volume was received; the few notices it obtained were savage or contemptuous: it was either a blow or a sneer. The Quarterly and Blackwood had their sport with the modest volume, and absurdly deemed they had extinguished him, but the true poet is indestructible. It is only the charlatan and the versifier who sink in the conflict of criticism. Like a brave knight, the poet comes out of every critical encounter with honor, and the attempt to crush him only spreads wider the renown of his prowess.
Alfred Tennyson, the abused of Christopher North, and of Lockhart, has become one of the recognized spirits of the age. On each side of the Atlantic he has placed his foot. Education, (that grand conductor of sound,) carries now the voice of truth and beauty to every human ear. The words of the poet, orator and philosopher, are no longer uttered in one corner to die in another; no smaller group than the assembled world now gathers round the great teacher. The language of Shakspere spreads every day; America carries freedom and civilization West; England East and South; they divide the mission, and work with the characteristic energy of the Anglo Saxon nature. It is not too much to predict that in time the Shaksperian will be the Universal tongue. It seems as though Providence prefigured this when he taught the greatest of poets to deliver his wonderful revelations in the English language.
It must be conceded to the harsh judging and wrong headed Christopher North, and to the elegant and conventional Lockhart, that the young poet in his first volume displayed several peculiarities calculated to arouse the entire bile of men who pinned their faith to Dryden, Pope, Campbell and Rogers and others of that school; but a truer and more generous appreciation would have convinced them that they were only misplaced ornaments, and not the main part of the building, and that there was ample evidence of the possession of the highest poetical genius.
Even the affectations and singularities of a young poet, should have made them more cautious. Originality is sometimes heralded by affectation, and the very unlikeness of a new volume to the old standards should have counselled forbearance. Critics should always doubt the powers and individuality of a poet, if on his first appearance there is nothing to offend. Be assured, if he is slavishly true to the established forms of poetry, that he is a disciple, and not a master; that he is an imitator, not an original.
We do not mean to exalt such musical verses as the following into the region of poetry, but even these like the melodious humming of a few notes, ought to have convinced the listeners that the spirit