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PROSPECTIVE LETTER CONCERNING POETRY. MR CHRISTOPHER North, present, be read with more satisfaction MEANING to address to you some in a poem or a novel, than seen repreremarks, I shall say for the present sented upon the stage. For, when we that I am a young
poet wishing to dis- commune with the heart, it is best tinguish, by new literary exploits, the done in private, and in a state of perreign of George the Fourth. You must fect liberty from the multitude. The remember that all the celebrated bards stage is the fit place for buffoonery, of the present time have come out un- for music, for all the arts of grimace, der George the Third ; but I must and the display of personal situation. turn over a new leaf; and my present But it will scarcely, at present, be perplexity arises from the difficulty of found the place for what is most seriascertaining what department will be ous and true in poetry. Some poets the best for genius to exert itself in. have lately been heard complimenting Looking round, I find the external ate each other in dramatic talent, and mosphere filled with scattered pheno- pressing and imploring each other to mena, betokening past commotions. write tragedies ; but if this had been But many clouds of delusion are dri- the time, and if nature had prompted ving away, and retreating far behind them, they probably would have done us. The atmosphere seems no longer so before now. Most to be desired are the same as when it was weighed down the productions of bold, inventive, and and rendered heavy by the powerful inquisitive genius, untrammelled by bad angel Napoleon. Lest, however, subjection to any particular form or you should think there may be more extrinsic purpose. For enlarging the words than meaning in these meta- mind, there can even be nothing betphors, I shall proceed to speak of my ter than the exercises of mere fancy; doubts, Mr Christopher, opening them for in works of fancy, the laws of comto you in a confidential manner. But, bination cannot be drawn from clumsy in the first place, I throw aside all use experience, or from an adherence to less and narrow-minded fears of the the probability of events. Therefore, materials of poetry being exhausted, in making them, there is no guide but for every new generation being placed intellect, taste, and the strong feeling in different circumstances, is made to of what is agreeable in the transifeel what requires to be differently ex- tions of thought and conception. In pressed. Poetry may be said to be ex- the same manner that in a piece of inhausted historically, and also in the strumental music, which neither exnatural or descriptive departments. presses the situation or passion of any The books of Homer, Lucretius, and person, there is no guide but a knowso forth, remain from age to age, and ledge of the relations of the different do not require to be succeeded by other keys, and abstract taste in choosing productions; but the kind of poetry the means of modulating through which each generation is fitted to pro- them. duce successively, consists of the ex- Fearing, however, that these gene. pression of problems of feeling which ral remarks may sound vague and unoccur to itself, according as external satisfactory, I shall proceed to somecircumstances, or the 'progress of re- thing more particular. I have said flection, throw the mind into new po- already that I am a young poet, yet I sitions. We must look towards that am still doubtful whether to write in kind wbich is inquisitive and philoso- verse or prose. In the English lanphical, and more intent upon exem- guage, there is not much gained as to plifying the general truths of feeling harmony, or the delight of the ear, by than upon causing a blind sympathy. writing verse. It is a mistake to supIt is most likely that no good drama- pose that the final purpose of rhyme tic pieces will be written unless upon is the correspondence of sounds, for a new plan. When minds of strong the real use of the recurrence of rhyme feeling become reflective and deli- is to mark the place which terminates berative, their disposition will not ac- a certain number of syllables. Thus cord with those dramas which require rhyme, occurring at the end of each an unreflecting surrender of personal eight or ten, strikes the ear, and makes sympathy to moving events. And any the regularity of the intermediate thing very profound or true would, at quantities perceptible. But as some lines are read faster and others slow. having one clear or fixed idea, or of er, it is evident that such verse is re- recollecting what it was doing six gular only in the number of syllables, weeks before and does not attain to a musical regularity of quantity, in which every line Laborious, heavy, busy, bold, and blind, would occupy precisely the same time.
It rules, in native anarchy, the mind. This lessens my esteem for verse. Ne- If the world had obstinacy or persevertheless, in many sorts of composi- verance in any thing, it would be an tion, it is still worth while to write in unruly force ; but happily it partakes verse, for the pleasure it gives, as well of“ semper varia et mutabilis" of the as for the form's sake. The Italian female nature, and its tendencies have stanza is coming into fashion, but has the same steadiness as the tumbling of this fault, that, for the number of a wave, or the succession of thoughts rhymes, it requires so much straining in a sick man's dream. It is not, thereand misplacing of words as to be in- fore, made to be obeyed by those who jurious to correctness. This sextuple seek for certainty or real good in any rudder of thought does best for those department of intellectual cultivation. who, in sailing, trust more to the wind Next to be spoken of is the mode of than to the compass. If I were to write treating a subject. On this subject I a tragedy for private perusal, and not feel not many doubts, being convinced for the stage, I think it would be best that all large and formal plans are as a to take a certain kind of verse which snare to the poet, and bring him into resembles the French Alexandrine, saying feeble, false, or unseasonable namely, the rhyming couplet of twelve things, which do not come either from syllables. This is a fine sounding mea- his own genius or from the subject.' sure, full of declamatory pomp and The best plan is that which results emphasis, and well fitted for convey- immediately from the nature of the ing the groans of a labouring bosom. theme, and terminates with it. EleMonotony is no fault in verse, if the gance of form, and pure and perfect meaning be good and full ; for the arrangement, give but small delight very monotony of verse implies its re- in poetry, compared with what they gularity of measure—one of the great give in music and painting. Poetry est perfections. I am tired of the must be more versant in the interests blank verse of ten syllables in trage- of the human affections. dies; and poets, by adopting a new Of all the poets who write at premeasure, should get quit of the old sent, the freest in expressing his spiritless thoughts connected with thoughts in any way they occur to this.
him, is Lord Byron. The freest inHaving thus expressed the difficulty ventor of fictions is Sir Walter Scott; which a poetical mind finds in chu- but they are expressive only of human sing between verse and prose, I shall character, and not of opinion, which next speak of the choice of themes for has little connection with the active poetry. Here the worst error lies in energy of the olden time. Words subjection to the opinion of the pub- worth's genius does not tend much lic, and a wish to light upon some towards the delights of fiction. Being subject that will be sure of immediate- more fit for meditative self-examinaly arresting its attention. Whoever tion, his thoughts are always called in seeks to enlarge the boundaries of from inventive flights by an anxious poetry must proceed upon more digni- wish to separate truth from falsehood. fied principles, and turn disinterest. But his mode of writing is sometimes edly towards those subjects his mind not entirely freed from something like most strongly draws him to inquire a puritanical grudge, making him wish into. That which is built immediate. still to retain “ a stern self-respect,” ly upon the temporary state of popu- and to take too much pleasure in his lar opinion produces its strongest ef- own modes of action. One would think fect at the first moment it is brought it would only be necessary for him to into contact with the public, but di- look at those vulgar religionists, who minishes in power ever after, till it are just, chiefly, for the sake of being comes to appear empty and unmean- proud, and who, although they obey ing. Such has been the fate of Lallah the law, are destitute of all feeling of Rookh, for instance, and will be of the beauty of abstract relations, so all poems that follow after public opi- that they would wish almost to stop nion, which never yet was capable of at the virtue of mere faith, which is
compatible with every sort of mental in any former poem. He leans entirely deformity. But I do not throw out towards natural passions and affections, these reflections with an intention to as opposed to the mind's subjection apply them to Wordsworth. His fault to the ideal ; and, consequentiy, his is not that he participates in such most general and absolute sentiment vices, but that he does not keep suffi- is that of universal relationship with ciently far from the region where they nature, and of the community of subexist. It may be said in his defence, stances--a “ thorny” creed. In the that to accomplish what he has done, exercises of fancy, (in which his lordit required, besides sensibility, also ship excels,) he seeks most for a rapid personal resolution and rigidity of will change of colours, and for bold oppoto persevere, in defiance of what was sitions. The narration of the first inpassing around him. If Wordsworth trigue in Don Juan produces a strong is sometimes harsh, Milton was sourer sensation. Nevertheless, the succesin the tendency of his sentiments, and sive narrations of amours would rehis mind never softened at all into quire to diminish in warmth, and to passive love, which sometimes appears, increase in philosophical reflections in Wordsworth's poetry, with all the upon the ultimate results of passion, graces of true humility and gentle and its various depths; and this, pergood-will. The nature of Words- haps, is the design of Don Juan, which worth's poetical pursuits must always his lordship promises is to be a moral have hindered him from a wandering poem. freedom of invention ; and it is easy Such are the opinions I entertain to perceive that his mode of imagining concerning the lines chosen by the is not very graceful or easy. From the prets who now write. But, for mythird canto of Don Juan, it appears self, I hesitate, not like a student bethat Lord Byron looks upon him with fore the two ways of the Samian letter, contempt and disapprobation, especial- but rather doubt and wonder, like a ly for this fault. His lordship’s mode mathematician, among the possible raof thinking and conceiving appears dii of a circle. Yours, &c. with better effect in Don Juan, than
NOTICES OF OLD ENGLISH COMEDIES.
No. I. Eastward Hoe-Jonson, CHAPMAN, AND Marston. In the analytical essays on the old and admiration would have been more English dramatists, which have made frequently noticed and allowed. We their appearance in the former num- have therefore been induced to combers of our work, our readers will ob- mence a new series, with reference to serve the design has been confined this particular object, in which we exclusively to plays of tragic interest purpose to bring a few of these proand complexion. We have not yet ductions before the view of our readstrayed, or attempted to stray, on the ers; entreating them at the same time comic ground of our ancient drama. to remember, that we do not promise Yet this has been occasioned, not so more than a brief and unpretending much by our undervaluing the hu- analysis of the different plays, with a mour and heartiness of our old come- few concluding observations; and that dy, as from a conviction of the surpass- the present series is not in any wise ing excellence of those plays which intended to interfere with or conclude abound most in scenes of passion and the former, of which we hope shortly high-wrought feeling, from which, if to give our readers some fresh and vafrom any thing, our modern tragic dra- luable specimens. ma must be recreated and refreshed. With the faculty of opening the Their scenes of humour none can esti- sluices of the heart, and awaking the mate more highly than we do; and most sacred sympathies of our being, were it not for those absorbing excel- our early dramatists possessed in an lencies we have before alluded to, we equal degree that kcen consciousness are satisfied their claim to attention of the ridiculous, and graphical force of
delineation, which are required for the the number of our elder dramatists, procłuction of characters and situations a large proportion were at once wriof humour. The same natural and ters of comedies and tragedies, and intuitive feeling which led them to in each line unquestionably and paracomprehend and fathom the graver mountly successful. We do not here emotious and higher mysteries of our speak of those plays which are comkind, was never wanting when the pounded partly of ludicrous and partobject was to discern, analyze, and ly of tragic scenes,--such as the his. seize hold of the laughter-raising an- tories of Shakespeare,—but of comexieties, strifes, passions, and humours dies and tragedies, properly so called, of common life. Nature, in short, lay in which this chequer-work was not before them; and whether their incli- admitted. Middleton, Rowley, Chapnation prompted them to call up tears man, Heywood, Marston, and Webor smiles, to harrow the soul with ster, with many others, might be terror, or expand it with lofty and ge- named, amongst these double functionnerous ebullitions of feeling—to strike aries of the drama. In none is this upon the common and catholic sensi- exertion of power more remarkable bilities of which none are devoid, or to than in Webster.-Who could possibly give to the heart new workings, aspi- conceive or imagine the shadowy and rations, and fashionings—or, lastly, to awful pencil which delineated the entertain, by the ludicrous or comic death of the Duchess of Malfy, in exhibitions of our species, their suc- scenes which terror has steeped with æss was ever great, triumphant, and its darkest colouring, could ever, quite prevailing. Indeed it was impossible ting the province of clouds and temthey should not be equally potent in pests in which its master sat enthrothe lighter as well as the more serious ned, the very rapin nyepeta Zeus of the representations of life, since almost all drama, descend to embody forth the the qualities of mind which minister- lighter and lowlier scenes of comedy? ed to the one were, as the drama then Yet this we see it has done, and in a stood, accessory to the development of manner which demonstrates it to have the other. Besides, their comprehen- been an easy and uninforced attempt siveness of observation was too exten- To attribute this to versatility of talent sive, their outpouring of faculty too is ridiculous. It had a much deeper great, to take in only one department root. It was the result of a connexion of the mighty theatre which lies open between the two orders and characters for scenical imitation. Like the Ro- of composition. It shews that tragedy man epicures, they put the whole was then pitched in a proper key, world in contribution to furnish the that it had not then forsook the lanmagnificence of their table. Human guage of common life,—that it had life, not in its fragments, not in its not then interposed a deep gulpb befractured parts, not in its separated tween itself and comedy. It shows portions of hill, dale, champain, or that a secret and invisible line of comvalley, but in its whole chequered and munication was then subsisting bevariegated vastness, was the vision it tween them, which, while it served as was permitted them to contemplate. a connecting chain to both, was the The veil of the temple, if our reve- link which bound both to nature. It rence can permit us to make use of the manifests that no divorce bad then expression, was rent in twain; and taken place, or destroyed that salutary thus, with them, those twin-sovereigns, connexion, from which, as neighbourTragedy and Comedy, which in other ing trees from the intertwining of their tiines, and with other nations, have roots, each gathered strength. This risen to life and sunk into extinguish- connexion was indeed the very essence ment singly and unallied, with them and soul of both. Without it, our burst forth into existence at once, and ancient drama could not have subsistpursued their way, not diversely and ed, and without it, perhaps, no modern apart, but walked together hand in national drama can subsist. As long hand, prosecuting their various but as they are united by the mutual ties not irreconcileable functions, and ma- of relationship, tragedy will be checknitesting at once the approximation of ed in its aberrations from life and natheir natures, and the nearness of ture by its less ambitious neighbour, their relationship
which will, in its turn, borrow dignity Accordingly we find, that amongst from tragedy ; but as soon as these are severed, the former will evaporate in their partnerships of fame. Even surly bombast, and the latter degenerate Ben, self-relying and jealous as he into farce. So the event has proved. was, we see did not scruple to enter When, by the introduction of stiff into alliances of this kind, and, besides modes of criticism, and superinduced the present instance, has written in insensibility of feeling, the nice and conjunction with Middleton and Fletdelicate medium of connexion between cher. This is a pleasing indication of these twin powers was lost, then im- a common interest, a heartening spimediately departed the excellence of rit, in the literature of the time, which our drama, and thenceforward we meet was sufficient to raise and dignify the no more with those touches of nature, drama of any country. Yet it is painstrokes of feeling, bursts of passion, ful to remark, that Marston, who, and electrifying energies of expression, in the comedy before us, is the coadwhich abound in our early tragic jutor of Ben Jonson, was, within a scenes ; and, in their stead, we have short time after the writing of it, one little else but frothy declamation, and of the most violent of his enemies ;cold extravagance. Comedy also has so short and insecure is the continulost its sterling dignity, and degene, ance of literary friendships. rated first into witty licentiousness, and The present play is one of the many next into farcical buffoonery and com- of which city manners are the subject. mon-place. The comedies of the time with most of the comic writers of the of Vanburgh and Congreve are as little time, they were a favourite theme. The worthy of being compared to the sub- prosperous reign of Elizabeth, and the stantially excellent productions of peaceful one of James, gave full opFletcher and Ben Jonson, as any of portunity for industry and persevethe tawdry and despicable perform- rance to rise to wealth; and commerce ances of the present day. The sickly multiplied the means and enlarged the mixture of sentiment and farce, by resources. Luxury, and extravagance which the latter are characterized, is the attendant of luxury, marched forabsolutely insufferable, after perusing ward with rapid strides, and stocked such plays as The Alchymist,' and the metropolis daily with fresh tempta‘Every Man in his Humour. In them, tions for the prodigal and the unexpeand in the comedies of their time, all rienced. Attracted by these allurethe strong and healthy lineaments of ments, the landed inheritors left the dramatic excellence are manifest and country for the town and the court, prominent; there is nothing ricketty and frequently launched into extravaor unfashioned in their make, and gancies which their purses were unable little extravagant or out of place in to support, while their hospitable firetheir situations; they have wit, as it sides were deserted ; and what had is regulated by nature, and sentiment, been the abiding place of their foreas it is controuled by truth.
fathers, was left comfortless and bare. But these considerations are out of Thus many ancient families were rethe compass of our design, and we duced to beggary. On the ruins of these will drop them. The play which we sprung up the race of opulent citizens have taken, as the first subject of our and shopkeepers ; and gradually inspecimens, is the joint production of creasing in importance, began to shoulBen Jonson, Chapman, and Marston. der out the better educated and better Perhaps it is not one of the most ex- bred gentlemen of the day. Every cellent of our early comedies, yet is method which money could supply of unquestionably, even as a picture of hiding the original obscurity of birth ancient city manners, an interesting and family was resorted to ; and the piece of writing. Our reverence, how- degree of knighthood, which the hand ever, for the former of those writers of James, ever poor in purse and prohas chiefly induced us to give it an digal in honours, extended to all who examination, and few, we think, can could pay for it, was gladly caught feel indifferent to any thing in which hold of by opulent upstarts as a factiBen Jonson had a part, whilst yet in tious means of gentility. Hence the the vigour of his strength. As the frequent introduction of knights in our joint composition of three eminent old comedies, and particularly in those dramatists, it is still more interesting; of Ben Jonson, as the licensed subjects nothing is more pleasing about the of ridicule. Amongst so many instances, performances of these writers than it is reasonable to suppose that exam