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the republic of letters into many separate states or regions, marked by distinct diversities of nature and aspect. Among them poetry is accounted merely as one; which, although inherently superior to the rest, yet being degraded by the occasional inferiority of its cultivators, submits sometimes to successful, and almost triumphant rivalry.
To the poetesses of England the remainder of this volume will be exclusively appropriated, their respective prose writings being included in the review of their productions; the appellation of poetesses being limited to those in whom the faculty of composition in verse obviously forms either the highest original exercise of their minds, or possesses the genuine characteristics of true poetry.
A Dissertation upon Poetry-its nature and uses.
“Not empire to the rising sun,
By valour, conduct, fortune won ;
Dean Swift's · Rhapsody on Poetry.'
ALTHOUGH the ancient Greeks attributed to the Muses not only the suggestive impulses of poetry and rhetoric, but those of almost all the fine and liberal arts, yet their bards describe the most distinguishing and precious prerogatives of the golden-sandalled daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne as consisting in the inspiration of heart-ennobling and melodious verse.
Hesiod, in his • Theogony,' exhibits them first in the performance of their highest functions, singing choral hymns to their heavenly Father, and to the subordinate “givers of blessings,” and then as exemplifying celestial government and control over the heroic actions of men, while by such strains
“To evils, they
that the Graces have their mansions near, and that those earthly beings are blessed whom they love. He seems, while bending over his laurel-bough, to have imputed every grace of movement, and every harmony of sound, in nature and in art, to their influence; while
“Rejoicing in their beauteous voice and song
To their own father's presence."*
“Ye muses, ever fair and young,"+
and lines from many other Greek poets, might here be adduced to prove that those enthroned bards were so well aware of a truth enunciated by Wordsworth, that his words, instead of being prompted by original reflection, might pass for a plain inference drawn from their works—“ Fancy is given to quicken and to beguile the temporal part of our nature, Imagination to incite and to support the eternal."
The natural delight of human beings in acquiring knowledge, and in drawing inferences from the contemplation of objects of sense, is considered by Aristotle as suggesting the origin of all the imitative arts, and as combining with the spontaneous pleasure taken in rhythm and melodious sound to arouse into action the poetic faculty. His treatise on The Poetic' does not explain its essence, but merely defines the proprieties of its principal forms. The Ancient British bards, without defining poetry, gave many admirable precepts for its regulation. One Triad declares : “ Three things should all poetry be—thoroughly erudite, thoroughly animated, and thoroughly natural.'
* Elton's Translation.
+ Fawkes's Translation. | Preface to the first volume of his Works, cditions 1815 and 1840.
The dissertation of Imlac, in the 10th chapter of Dr. Johnson's “Rasselas,' is an admirable, though an unintentional commentary upon the injunction that all poetry should be “ thoroughly erudite.” That it should likewise be “thoroughly animated,” full of heart, and soul, and spirit; and “thoroughly natural,” — simple, unaffected, unconstrained, and always true to nature and to human feeling—were facts which that eminent critic, trammelled as he was by the artificial system of his age, failed to recognise in theory, although he sometimes practically evinced a just sense of their force.
Among English scholars, at the period of the revival of . classical literature, to translate euphonically must have been deemed a skilful feat; and consequently the spirit and the matter of Greek poetry excited comparatively less attention than its rhythm. Under this impression, Puttenham defined poetry to be “a skill to speak and write harmonically;" and verse to be “a kind of musical utterance, by reason of a certain congruity of sounds pleasing to the ear.” Hence it would appear that he thought them identical, and did not recognise what the Welsh bards call the Awen, or poetic inspiration. It was the mere voice and rhythm which he noticed, not “ those ultimate secretions,” as Sir James Stephen terms them, “ of the deepest thoughts and the purest feelings, in which the essence of poetry consists.”*
Craik says, “ Passion expressing itself in verse, is what is properly called poetry.” †
This definition is too narrow. Verse vivified by passion is undoubtedly poetry: but there are kinds of poetry in which passion is not a necessary element.
The most eloquent of women, writing under German * Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography,' vol. ii., p 59.
+ Sketches of the History of Literature and Learning in England,' vol. iii., p. 161.
influences, with the impulsive felicity of French utterance, declares :—“ Il est difficile de dire ce qui n'est pas de la poésie; mais, si l'on veut comprendre ce qu'elle est, il faut appeler à son secours les impressions qu'excitent une belle contrée, une musique harmonieuse, le régard d'un objet chéri, et par-dessus tout, un sentiment religieux qui nous fait éprouver en nous-mêmes la présence de la Divinité.”*
-It is difficult to say what is not poetry; but if any one desires to comprehend what it is, it will be necessary for him to call to his aid the impressions excited by a beautiful country, harmonious music, the sight of a beloved object, and, above all, that religious sentiment which makes us inwardly conscious of the presence of God.
The soul of every poet must re-echo these sentiments: therefore, if Mr. Craik uses the word “passion” as a synonym of “enlivened imagination,” his definition may be accepted; though Dr. Blair gives a closer approximation to the indefinable truth, when stating it to be “the language of passion, or of enlivened imagination, formed most commonly into regular numbers.” While cavilling thus at the mere words of Professor Craik's definition, it is, however, cordially acknowledged that the criticisms interspersed through his ‘Sketches' sufficiently attest his wide, warm sense of every form of real poetry.
Poetry essentially consists of fine thoughts and melodious utterance; and its mundane materials are—the appearances of nature, the records of history, the events of life, and the internal experience of the soul.
Bishop Lowth, in his Introductory Lecture on the *Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews,' remarks, that “ However ages and nations may have differed in their religious sentiments and opinions, in this, at least, we find them all
* Madame de Staël, “L'Allemagne,' vol. i., 2de partie, chap. x.