to the account of the friends of freedom—to their interference.
John Burroughs, in his inspiring essay on Walt Whitman entitled `The Flight of the Eagle', quotes the following sentence from a lecture on Burns, delivered by "a lecturer from over seas", whom he does not name: "When literature becomes dozy, respectable, and goes in the smooth grooves of fashion, and copies and copies again, something must be done; and to give life to that dying literature, a man must be found not educated under its influence."
Such a man I would say was William Cowper, who, in his weakness, was "Strong to sanctify the poet's high vocation", and who "Testified this solemn truth, while phrenzy desolated, -- Nor man nor angel satisfies whom only God created."
John Keats, in his poem entitled `Sleep and Poetry', has well characterized the soulless poetry of the period between the Restoration and the poetical revival in the latter part of the eighteenth century, but more especially of the Popian period. After speaking of the greatness of his favorite poets of the Elizabethan period, he continues: -- "Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism Nurtured by foppery and barbarism, Made great Apollo blush for this his land. Men were thought wise who could not understand His glories: with a puling infant's force They sway'd about upon a rocking-horse, And thought it Pegasus." (Alluding to the rocking-horse movement of the Popian verse.) "Ah dismal soul'd! The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd It's gathering waves -- ye felt it not. The blue Bar'd its eternal bosom, and the dew Of summer nights collected still to make The morning precious: beauty was awake! Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead To things ye knew not of, -- were closely wed To musty laws lined out with wretched rule And compass vile: so that ye taught a school Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit, Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit, Their verses tallied. Easy was the task: A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race! That blasphem'd the bright Lyrist to his face, And did not know it, -- no, they went about, Holding a poor, decrepid standard out Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and in large The name of one Boileau!"
It was these lines that raised the ire of Byron, who regarded them as an irreverent assault upon his favorite poet, Pope. In the controversy occasioned by the Rev. W. L. Bowles's strictures on the Life and Writings of Pope, Byron perversely asks, "Where is the poetry of which one-half is good? Is it the Aeneid? Is it Milton's? Is it Dryden's? Is it any one's except Pope's and Goldsmith's, of which ALL is good?"
In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the spiritual flow which, as I have said, set in about the middle of the eighteenth century, and received its first great impulse from William Cowper, reached its high tide in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Southey, and Byron. These poets were all, more or less, influenced by that great moral convulsion, the French revolution, which stirred men's souls to their deepest depths, induced a vast stimulation of the meditative faculties, and contributed much toward the unfolding of the ideas "on man, on nature, and on human life", which have since so vitalized English poetry.*
-- * "The agitation, the frenzy, the sorrow of the times, reacted upon the human intellect, and FORCED men into meditation. Their own nature was held up before them in a sterner form. They were compelled to contemplate an ideal of man, far more colossal than is brought forward in the tranquil aspects of society; and they were often engaged, whether they would or not, with the elementary problems of social philosophy. Mere danger forced a man into thoughts which else were foreign to his habits. Mere necessity of action forced him to decide." -- Thomas De Quincey's `Essay on Style'. --
Wordsworth exhibited in his poetry, as they had never before been exhibited, the permanent absolute relations of nature to the human spirit, interpreted the relations between the elemental powers of creation and the moral life of man, and vindicated the inalienable birthright of the lowliest of men to those inward "oracles of vital deity attesting the Hereafter." Wordsworth's poetry is, in fact, so far as it bears upon the natural world, a protest against the association theory of beauty of the eighteenth century -- a theory which was an offshoot of the philosophy of Locke, well characterized by Macvicar, in his `Philosophy of the Beautiful' (Introd., pp. xv., xvi), as "an ingenious hypothesis for the close of the eighteenth century, when the philosophy then popular did not admit, as the ground of any knowledge, anything higher than self-repetition and the transformation of sensations."
Coleridge's `Rime of the Ancient Mariner' is an imaginative expression of that divine love which embraces all creatures, from the highest to the lowest, of the consequences of the severance of man's soul from this animating principle of the universe, and of those spiritual threshings by and through which it is brought again under its blessed influence. In his `Cristabel' he has exhibited the dark principle of evil, lurking within the good, and ever struggling with it. We read it in the spell the wicked witch Geraldine works upon her innocent and unsuspecting protector; we read it in the strange words which Geraldine addresses to the spirit of the saintly mother who has approached to shield from harm the beloved child for whom she died; we read it in the story of the friendship and enmity between the Baron and Sir Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine; we read it in the vision seen in the forest by the minstrel Bard, of the bright green snake coiled around the wings and neck of a fluttering dove; and, finally, we read it in its most startling form, in the conclusion of the poem, "A little child, a limber elf, singing, dancing to itself," etc., wherein is exhibited the strange tendency to express love's excess "with words of unmeant bitterness". This dark principle of evil, we may suppose, after dwelling in the poet's mind, in an abstract form, crept into this broken poem, where it lies coiled up among the choicest and most fragrant flowers, and occasionally springs its warning rattle, and projects its forked tongue, to assure us of its ugly presence.
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