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Though thy blue hills, New JERSEY! are fair to the vision,
BY B. H. COATES.
I confess I am disgusted with the ferocious and malignant style in which much of the criticism of the day deals with those unfortunate individuals who attempt to amuse the public with their efforts at poetry. In handling the works of those whose reputation is already established, we observe something like attention to the rules of ancient criticism and modern politeness; but when the reviewer gets hold of an obscure writer or one whom he chooses to consider as a dunce, those principles of conduct by which we are taught as a duty to avoid unnecessarily wounding the feelings of our neighbour, seem to be entirely dismissed from the mind, and the unfortunate author is handed over to bull dogs to be baited, with as little remorse, as if, instead of being a harmless proser, he were a high offender against the peace and welfare of the community. He seems to be, habitually and as a thing of course, regarded as a criminal. “ Judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur," is a motto which has not adorned the front of a celebrated journal without a clear application and a steady, unsparing enforcement. The unlucky wretch who is guilty of dulness, or, what is the same thing, who belongs to a different political party, or has given private offence to one of the leading reviewers, is not even held entitled to the refinements of modern penal jurisprudence. Unlike the murderer, the offending scribbler, thus tried and condemned without a jury of his peers, is subjected not only to execution but to the torture; the utmost ingenuity of authorship being tasked to inflict the rack more severely, and to awaken the feelings of the lacerated sufferer to the utmost pitch of torment.
Of this it would not be difficult to cite abundant instances. I shall not, however, occupy time with quoting what is so very familiar. It is still harder, that the unfortunate writer has to submit not only to the stings of wit and genius, but to the coarse and blundering assaults of rival dulness. It is some satisfaction to have it said, “ Ænææ magni dextrâ cadis.” The pangs of the wound are greatly softened by the fine edge and delicate polish of the weapon; and even the sufferer, if nature and education have endowed him with taste, can occasionally derive some pleasure from the grace and dexterity with which it has been wielded. Of this he is deprived when the attack is made by an inferior hand and with an imperfect instrument. Thus the rusty, jagged and shapeless blade of the Malay kreese, roughly hammered out of soft iron, inflicts an incomparably more painful and rankling wound than the finest scimitar of Damascus. A tolerable example of the temper with which one unsuccessful writer occasionally views his fellows, may be found in the verses I have appropriated as a motto. They are selected from a recent production which has lately fallen under my eye, not certainly from their intrinsic poetical beauty, or their grammatical correctness, but from their affording a fair specimen of the virulent style, and sufficient to exemplify what I have in view. What can there be in the transitory poetry of the day to justify the expression of such emotions? Is it possible, that the mere fact of having written a number of poet
ical pieces, of various merits and demerits, the majority certainly not inferior to those of the author who expresses himself in this vehement manner, can ever justify professions of hatred and contempt, and the use of reproachful and insulting language, such as by unanimous consent is forbidden in society?
We have heard of a politician who, in the heat of an angry debate, was unceremoniously addressed with the significant words, “ You lie.” Our citizen was not deficient in that virtue, so necessary to a statesman, selfcommand. “Stop there!” he said, “ Let us argue that! If you will only listen to me, I will..undertake to convince you that I did not lie !” In imitation of this reasonable disputant, I will endeavour to point out some of the arguments which might be used by an unlucky dunce alleged to be taken in the act of violating the good taste of the community by the perpetration of perfectly detestable verses, in order to protect himself against the severity of criticism and disarm the anger of the outraged public. He should move court in mitigation of sentence; and then represent that in reality the injury to the commonwealth was not by any means so great as has been represented. The writing of bad poetry 6 breaks no man's leg, nor picks his pocket.” His wares are put in the market precisely as is done with any others, and there exists no more reason why a man should be punished for offering bad poetry for sale than for keeping cloth of an inferior quality, or selling a badly made coat. 66 Caveat emptor.” No man is obliged to buy. He who purchases takes the article at his own risk, and if he 6 like not the tragedy," he may throw it down. Besides, even if the individual who has bought a volume think himself under obligation, from the incidental circumstance of having purchased it, to peruse the whole, and be thereby put to serious loss and damage of his time, yet even then, it may be considered that the amount of the latter consumed is usually small, that it is not always certain that said time would otherwise have been better employed, and that it is not improbable that a considerable proportion of the readers who shall so act, will not receive any very acutely painful sensation from the violence thus done to their good taste. He may besides plead his utter innocence of any evil design in the production of the poetry in question; he having sincerely intended to write only that which was really good and sufficient for the public taste, and bona fide entertained the opinion, at the time of publication, that the verses in question did really possess the adequate merit to which we have here alluded. Nor could, I think, a reasonable court fail to admit that these pleadings would greatly abate their estimate of the extreme criminality of the action.
But to drop the impersonation of the unhappy culprit, I will proceed, in my own proper style, to express the reasons why I think acrimony in judging of even bad poetry unsuitable and unbecoming. The writing of poetry is essentially a noble and honourable task. It is an attempt to communicate an innocent and elevated pleasure; and is rarely executed without a consentaneous effort to improve, or at least to refine the mind. He who eminently succeeds in it has been held in honour in all ages of the world. As has been lately remarked by a critic, in speaking of Lord Byron, the death of a great poet is felt as a more personal loss, by each member of the community, than that of any man of political distinction. The successful and celebrated bard winds himself into the feelings of the reader, supplies him with new ideas, and awakens his most concealed sympathies ;