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Now these poets Jeffrey judged before but looked at it from its author's posihe interpreted. His quick glance over tion. He saw that to understand the the superficies of things, and his faculty events of history and the masterpieces of of rapid empirical generalization, enabled art, it was necessary to bring to them a him to present their defects before the mind willing to learn—that knowledge eye in exaggerated proportions; but their began in self-distrust--that individual genius merely hummed in his ears. He experience is a poor measure of the rewas never borne along with the glad and sources of the race—and that ideas and exulting song in which they hymned the principles varied their forms with variawondrousness and beauty of nature; his tions in the circumstances of mankind. soul never lifted itself up to those regions, He knew that “ to appreciate the defects where their spirits roved and shaped in of a great mind, it was necessary to unthe ecstasies of contemplation. In all derstand previously its characteristic exhis various critiques, he never touched cellencies.” He had a clear notion of the heart of their mystery-never com- the difference, lying at the base of all prehended their individuality, their hu- poetic criticism, between mechanical regumanity, their spirituality, the organic larity and organic form; and in the dislife of their works. He either could not, regard of this distinction by critics, he or would not, reproduce in his own mind saw the cause of the numberless fallacies those moods of thought and feeling, upon and falsities which vitiated their judgwhose validity the truth of their poetry ments. The form or body of a work of was to be tried; consequently, he merely genius, he considered as physiognomical shoots squibs when he seems to be de- of the soul within ; that it was not a livering decisions. Though he could collection of parts, cunningly put togehandle a wide variety of topics, and was ther, but a growth from a central princigenerally adroit and plausible in their ciple of life ; and that every production management, his comprehension was of the mind, which was animated with simply of the surfaces of things. life, was to be judged by its organic
Now the man for whose opinions Jef- laws. This, of course, brings the critic frey had the least regard, is the true ex to the very heart of the matter---the conponent of the philosophical criticism of sideration of the vital powers of genius; the century-Coleridge. He was the those mysterious powers of growth and first who made criticism interpretative production, which are identical with the both of the spirit and form of works of laws by which they work, and whose genius, the first who founded his
princi- products, therefore, are not to be tried by ples in the nature of things. Though laws external to themselves. “Could á his views strikingly coincide with tbose rule be given from without, poetry would of Schlegel, they were formed and pub- cease to be poetry, and sink into a melicly expressed before that author's lec- chanical art.” tures on the Drama were delivered. Without this doctrine of vital powers, Hazlitt, who delighted to vex Coleridge, criticism becomes mere gibberish. Aniwas still very indignant when the latter mated and informed by these vital pow. was accused of pilfering from Schlegel, ers, commoa place becomes poetry, and testifying to the fact of his originality ritual religion. The first thing to be from the most positive knowledge. Amid settled in reviewing a composition, is its a host of professional critics, it was re- vitality. Has it lise? Did it grow to served for a poet to declare the true prin. its present shape, or was it merely put ciples on whích literary judgments should together? It is useless to criticise a be grounded.
corpse. Now if a poem have life, the Coleridge's mind was eminently inter principle of growth and assimilation, then pretative. He never was contented with criticism should first develop from within knowing merely the surfaces of things, the laws of its being. The question of but his intellect pierced beneath to their its relative excellence comes afterwards. laws. He possessed the power of learn. We must first discover what it is, and ing from other minds. A creed, a poem, not decide that by saying what it is not. an institution, which had met the wants We must pass into the mysterious depths of any body of people, required, in his of the mind in which it was matured, see view, to be explained before it was cen- the fountain springs of its thoughts and sured. The reason of its influence must emotions, and discern its own laws of be given. He was not contented with growth and production. The peculiar judging it from his own point of view, individuality of the man, the circum
stances of his being, not our peculiar in- ty, and love, and grandeur, amid all the dividuality and the circumstances of our differences of forms; feels it, indeed, all heing, must be investigateil, and, in ima. the more intensely, with every glimpse gination, lived. We must learn from of it in a new object. The swan and dove what point, and under what influences, are both beautiful, but it would be abhe looked on nature and human life, in surd, says Coleridge, pertinently,“ to iporder rightly to interpret his production. stitute a comparison between their sepa. A tree, growing by virtue of inward pro rate claims to beauty from any abstract perties, has, we all feel, an independent rule common to both, without reference to existence, and is itself its own apology the life and being of the animals themand defence. So with
a true poem, in selves ; or, as if having first seen the dove, stinct with vital life. To judge it simply we abstracted its outlines, gave them a on its agreement or disagreement with false generalization, called them the prin. the form of other poems, is about as ciples or ideal of bird beauty, and prowise as to flout the willow because it is ceeded to criticise the swan and the ea. not the oak. Besides, what are called gle.” It was from a melhod similar to the “ rules” of poetry were once the this that critics, mesmerized by Pope and organic laws of individual works. The Goldsmith, dictated laws to Wordsworth first poet furnished the rules of the first and Shelley, and measured the genius of critic. The essential originality and life Shakspeare and Spenser. It was this of a poem consists in containing within metbod which made two generations rest itself the laws by which it is to be contented with that precious morsel of judged. To make these laws the tests criticism on Shakspeare, that he was a of other poems, produced by different man of great beauties balanced by great minds, under different circumstances, in faults-a man of the supremest genius different ages and countries, is to convert and execrable taste! In view of the stuthe results of freedom into the instru- pidities into which acute but narrow un. ments of slavery, and doom the intellect derstandings have fallen, when they misto barrenness and death. In almost took the range of their own perceptions every instance where a man of genius for the extent of the universe, we may has given the law to others, the litera. well exclaim with Coleridge“Oh! few ture formed on his model has dwindled have there been among critics, who have into mechanical imitation, and only been followed with the eye of imagination the resuscitated by rebellion.
imperishable and ever wandering spirit of Nature furnishes exhaustless argu- poetry through its various metempsychoents against the critical narrowness, ses and consequent metamorphoses ;-or which would kill new beauty by accred- who have rejoiced in the light of a clear ited reputations. The faculty of per- perception at beholding with each new ceiving beauty in a variety of different birth, with each rare avatar, the human objects and forms, is the source of true race form to itself a new body, by assimdelight and improvement in literature as ilating materials of nourishment out of its in scenery:
An everlasting sameness new circumstances, and work for itself and repetition in either would be intole
new organs of power appropriate to the rable." In one sentence Coleridge has new sphere of its motion and activity.” given the true method of investigation : We are convinced that the true philo* Follow nature in variety of kinds.” sophical principles of criticism, are those As nature is inexhaustible in its variety, implied in the instinctive processes of evso are the possible combinations of the ery tolerant reader of taste. The mind, human mind. If we could see all the untrammeled by forms and rules which poems that exist potentially, nature and bigotry has put into it, has a sense for the man being given, we should drop our crit- beauty of all new objects, and sees them ical rules, though they were as wide as Ho- in relation to their own laws. Imperfect mer and Shakspeare. The man of true taste intellectual statements of the inward enlarges his apprehension to receive the sense of beauty, and the hardening down new poem as read as to receive the new of feelings into rules, cannot altogether landscape. The Alps breed in him no blunt the natural processes even of the contempt of the prairies. He has some. critic's own imagination. Besides, the thing in him which answers to Lake Le- mode we have indicated does not ignore man as well as to the ocean. He has no rules and principles, except when rules quarrel with Chaucer because he loves and principles are without foundation in Wordsworth, He feels the unity of beau- nature. Ii deduces its canons of criticism
from premises lying deep in the nature of profundities and disordered metaphysics. man. It pierces to that mysterious region The “ Biographia Literaria,” no one can of the soul, in which poetry and religion, read without being enriched, and without and all that transcends actual life, have being bored. Tried by his own critical their home. It disregards individual dic- principles, it wants unity, clearness and tation and petalance, and empirical rules; proportion. He expends page upon page but it does not disregard the nature of of what most readers would consider things. It applies tests, and severe ones, meaningless, metaphysical disquisition, but its tests are the laws, in obedience to preparatory to a definition of imagination, which the creative and modifying powers and then stops short with saying that, at of the soul act. And these laws it phi- present, he can merely give the result of losophically investigates and systema- his inquiries. That result is darker than tizes. It requires unity in every work of the processes. “ The primary Imaginaart, because unity is the mark of organi. tion,” he says, “I hold to be the living zation. It tolerates the widest variety of Power and prime Agent of all human kinds, but it demands that each shall have Perception, and as a repetition in the organic life. It detects deviations in a finite mind of the eternal act of creation, composition from its own law. It dis- in the infinite I Am.” We do not say criminates between what properly belongs that this and other passages are without to a work of art.-what in it has been any meaning, but their meaning is not developed from its central principle of vi- clear. It is not unfolded, but wrapped tality-and the accretions which may up. The words buzz and whirl in the have stuck to it. When it condemns po- brain, but give no distinct ideas. The ems, it condemns them from their “ inap- writer does not really communicate his propriateness to their own end and being, thought, and, therefore, the first object of their want of significance as symbols or writing is overlooked. There is no subphysiognomy.” By assuming the wri- ordination of the parts to the whole, but ter's own point of view, it has a sense of a splendid confusion. those imperfections of which he himself Still, in this book, but more especially is painfully conscious; discerns the dis- in the fragments on Shakspeare, Coletance between the law and its embodi- ridge has given us the results of his inment; and preserves the dignity of the vestigations into poetry and art, though ideal by knowing the possibilities as well his metaphysical analysis of the faculties as the products of the imagination. Ev. to which they relate is imperfect. His ery form of beauty in nature or art, sug- statements are better than his disquisigests something higher than itself. tions—his appeal to consciousness better
In Coleridge's criticisms on Shak- than his reasonings. The truths that he speare, in his “ Biographia Literaria,” and grasped in contemplation, he could not in portions of his other prose works, we always succeed in legitimatizing in metahave a distinct enunciation, often in sen. physical forms. But his theory of the tences of great splendor and energy, of vital powers of genius; his definitions of the leading principles of this philosophie imagination and fancy; his felicitous discal criticism. His prose, to be sure, is full tinctions, such as that which he makes of provoking faults, which few mere read- between illusion and delusion; his view ers can tolerate. It is sometimes diffuse, of the nature, scope and object of poetry; obscure and languid, branching off into his acute perception of the difference beepisodes and digressions, and not always tween the classical and romantic drama, held together by any perceptible thread the essence of the first consisting in “ the of thought. Most students bring little sternest separation of the diverse in kind from it but headaches. He is at once and the disparate in degree, whilst the one of the best, and one of the worst of other delights in interlacing by a rain. writers. He continually gives evidence bow-like transfusion of hues the one of a power of composition, of which his with the other;" his elaborate criticism prose works, on the whole, are but im- on the genius of Wordsworth ; his view perfect exponents. Sentences, full of of the mind of Shakspeare; his criticism muscular life and energy, embodying of single dramas, and his “endeavor to principles of the deepest import-words make out the title of the English drama, which come bright and rapid as light. as created by and existing in Shakspeare, ning, splitting the “unwedgable and to the supremacy of dramatic excellence gnarled” problem-are often seen in his in general;" his definition of poetry as writings, in connection with unintelligible the art of representing, in measured
words, “external nature and human my opinion, allowed a far wider sphere, thoughts, both relatively to human affec. and a deeper and more human interest. tions, so as to cause the production of as Critics are too apt to forget that rules are great immediate pleasure in each part, as but means to an end; consequently, is compatible with the largest possible where the ends are different, the rules sum of pleasure in the whole;" his ex must be likewise so. We must have planation of the sensuous element of po. ascertained what the end is, before we etry, as the “union, harmonious melting can determine what the rules ought to be. down and fusion of the sensual in the " Judging under this impression," be spiritual ”—all are replete with know. adds, “ ì did not hesitate to declare my ledge and suggestive thought. When full conviction, that the consummate Coleridge speaks of the poetical powers, judgment of Shakspeare, not only in the we are constantly reminded by his very general construction, but in all the detail language that be transcribes his own of his dramas, impressed me with greater consciousness, and speaks from authority, wonder than even the might of his genius, not as the reviewers; as when he refers or the depth of his philosophy.” In his to the “ Violences of excitement”_"the criticisms on Shakspeare, he insists, with laws of association of feeling with much felicity, on the unity of a work of thought”—" the starts and strange far- art as its characteristic excellence. It flights of the assimilative power on the must be a concrete whole, all its parts in slightest and least obvious likeness pre- just subordination to its leading idea or sented by thoughts, words and objects”- principle of life. Thus the imagination, " the original gift of spreading the tone, in its tranquil and purely pleasure operathe atmosphere, and with it, the depth and tion, “acts chiefly by creating out of height of the ideal world around forms, many things as they would have apincidents and situations of which, for the peared in the description of an ordinary common view, custom had bedimmed all mind detailed in unimpassioned succesthe lustre, had dried up the sparkle and sion, a oneness, even as nature, the greatthe dew drops.” Also, in speaking of est of poets, acts upon us when we open the language of the highest poetry, he our eyes upon an extended prospect. calls it intermediate between arbitrary And again: the imagination, by combin. language, mere “modes of recalling an ing many circumstances into one moobject,” seen or felt, and the language of ment of consciousness, “tends to produce nature—a subordinate Logos--that was the ultimate end of all human ihought in the beginning, and was with the thing and feeling, unity, and thereby the reit represented, and was the thing it duction of the spirit to its principles and represented. It is the blending arbitrary fountain, who is always truly one.” At language with that of nature, not merely the end of his notes on Shakspeare, he recalling the cold notion of a thing, but has a passage, full of power and meanexpressing the reality of it-language ing, incidentally referring to the same which is itself a part of that which it thought: “ There are three powers :manifests.” In reading this, and also Wit, which discovers partial likeness Wordsworth's definition of language, as hidden in general diversity; Subtlety, the “ Incarnation of thought," not its which discovers the diversity concealed dress, we feel that it is not observation in general apparent sameness; and Probut consciousness that speaks.
fundity, which discovers an essential To Coleridge belongs the honor of unity under all the semblances of differemancipating Shaksperian criticism in ence. Give to a subtle man fancy, and England from its old bonds. He showed he is a wit; to a deep man imagination, that the error of the classical critics con- and he is a philosopher. Add, again, sisted in “mistaking for the essentials of pleasurable sensibility in the three-fold the Greek stage, certain rules which the form of sympathy with the interesting in wise poets imposed on themselves, in morals, the impressive in form, and the order to render all the remaining parts of harmonious in sound, and you have the the drama consistent with those which poet. But combine all, wit, subtlety and had been forced upon them by circum- fancy, with profundity, imagination, and stances independent of their will; out of moral and physical susceptibility of the which circumstances the drama itself pleasurable, and let the object of action rose. The circumstances in Shakspeare's be man universal, and we shall havetime were different, which it was equally O rash prophecy! say, rather, we bave out of his power to alter, and such as, in a Shakspeare!"
We have no space to refer to the de- was the dogmatism of knowledge, not of tails of Coleridge's interpretations of ignorance. He showed that there are Shakspeare and Wordsworth, and to his deeper principles involved in what men application of his theory of vital powers loosely
reason upon, and carelessly praise to society, and the forms of religion and or condemn, than are generally acknowgovernment. Everything organized re- ledged. He was most disposed to examceived from him a respectful considera- ine
a book or an institution, to discern its tion, when he could recognize its organic meaning, while others were joining the life and principle of growth. This, of hue and cry against it. And, especially, course, did not prevent him from criticis- he changed criticism from censorship into ing it, and estimating its value, and interpretation-evolving laws, when othplacing it in its due rank in the sliding ers were railing at forms. His influence scale of excellence and importance. But in this respect has been great. He has it did prevent him from hastily deciding revolutionized the tone of Jeffrey's own questions on shallow grounds. It tended review. Carlyle, Macaulay, Talfourd, to give his mind catholicity and compre- all the most popular critics of the day, hension. It made him willing to learn. more or less follow his mode of judgment When he was dogmatic, his dogmatism and investigation.
THE POWER OF THE BARDS.
WISDOM, and pomp, and valor,
And love, and martial glory-
of England's elder story.
Dark on her life of old,
With music sweet and bold.
The darksome way along,
With joyous harp and song.
To greet us everywhere;
To stir the sunny air.
White on the narrow sea ;
The plumes of Normandy.
Go out the chase to lead-
The dead king's flying steed.
Stealing to Woodstock bower,
In twilight's starry hour.
We hear the songs they sing;
Betwixt the bard and king.