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renders, as much as possible, specific and individual, even to a degree of portraiture. In his diction and metre, on the other hand, he is comparatively careless. The measure is either constructed on no previous system, and acknowledges no justifying principle but that of the writer's convenience; or else some mechanical movement is adopted, of which one couplet or stanza is so far an adequate specimen, as that the occasional differences appear evidently to arise from accident, or the qualities of the language itself, not from meditation and an intelligent purpose. And the language from (Pope's translation of Homer, to Darwin's Temple of Nature, 1 1 may, notwithstanding some illustrious excep(tions, be too faithfully characterized, as claiming to be poetical for no better reason, than that it would be intolerable in conversation or in prose. Though alas! even our prose writings, nay even the style of our more set discourses, strive to be in the fashion, and trick themselves out in the soiled and over-worn finery of the meretricious muse. It is true that of late a great improvement in this respect is observable in our most popular writers. But it is equally true, that this recurrence to plain sense and genuine mother English is far from being general; and that the composition of our novels, magazines, public harangues, and the like is commonly as trivial in thought, and yet enigmatic in expression, as if Echo and Sphinx had laid their heads together to construct it. Nay, even of those who have most rescued themselves from this contagion, I should plead inwardly guilty to the charge of duplicity or cowardice, If I withheld my conviction, that few have guarded the purity of their native tongue with that jealous care, which the sublime Dante in his
tract De la volgare Eloquenza, declares to be the first duty of a poet. For language is the armoury of the human mind; and at once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests. Ani-" madverte, says Hobbes, quam sit ab improprietate
2 [See I. c. xix. s. II. c. i. The spirit breathing in this Fragment may justify what Mr. C. says; but Dante does not appear to have used the expression attributed to him in the text. Ed.
It seems probable that Mr. Coleridge alluded to the following passage, which I found written by his hand in a copy of the first edition of Joan of Arc.
Degne di sommo stilo sono le somme Cose, ciò è, l'Amore, la Libertà, la Virtù, l'Immortalitâ, e quelle altre Cose che per cagion di esse sono nella Mente nostra conceputi; per che per niun Accidente non siano fatte vili. Guardisi adunque ciascuno, e discerna quello che dicemo: e quando vuole queste somme Cose puramente cantare, prima * bevendo nel Fonte di Elicona, ponga sicuramente a l'accordata Lyra il sommo Plettro, e costumatamente cominci. Ma a fare questa Canzone, e questa Divisione, come si dee-quì è la Difficoltà, quì è la Fatica: perciò che mai senza Acume d'Ingegno, ne senza Assiduità d'Arte, ne senza Abito di Scienze, non si potrà fare. E questi sono quelli, che 'l Poeta nel L. VI. de la Eneide chiami Diletti da Dio, e da la ardente Virtù alzati al Cielo, e Figlinoli di Dio, avegna che figuratumente parli.
E però si confessa la Sciocchezza di coloro, i quali senza Arte, e senza Scienza, confidando si solamente del loro Ingegno, si pongono a cantar sommamente le Cose somme. Adunque cefsino questi tali da tanta loro Presunzione, e se per la loro naturale Desidia sono Oche, non vogliano l'Aquila, che altamente vola, imitare.
Dante, de la volgare Eloquenza, l. ii. c. 4.† S. C.]
* That is, waiting for, and seizing the moment of deep Feeling, and stirring Imagination, after having by stedfast accurate Observation, and by calm and profound Meditation, filled himself, as it were, with his subject. S. T. C.
+ [This Italian version of the treatise De vulg. Eloq. was by Trissino, according to A. Zeno, who says that the translator has, in many places, confounded and altered the sense. The Latin tractate, which the Editor refers to, is by Dante himself. S. C.]
verborum pronum hominibus prolabi in errores circa ipsas res! Sat [vero], says Sennertus, in hác vitæ brevitate et naturæ obscuritate, rerum est, quibus cognoscendis tempus impendatur, ut [confusis et multivocis] sermonibus intelligendis illud consumere opus non sit. [Eheu! quantas strages paravere verba nubila, quæ tot dicunt ut nihil dicunt ;—nubes potius, e quibus et in rebus politicis et in ecclesia turbines et tonitrua erumpunt!] Et proinde recte dictum putamus a Platone in Gorgia: os av Tà ὀνόματα εἰδεὶ, εἴσεται καὶ τὰ πράγματα: et ab Εpicteto, ἀρχὴ παιδεύσεως ἡ τῶν ὀνομάτων ἐπίσκεψις: et prudentissime Galenus scribit, ἡ τῶν ὀνομάτων χρῆσις ταραχθεῖσα καὶ τὴν τῶν πραγμάτων ἐπιταράττει γνώσιν.
Egregie vero J. C. Scaliger, in Lib. I. de Plantis: Est primum, inquit, sapientis officium, bene sentire, ut sibi vivat: proximum, bene loqui, ut patriæ vivat."
Something analogous to the materials and structure of modern poetry I seem to have noticed-(but here I beg to be understood as speaking with the utmost diffidence)—in our common landscape painters. Their foregrounds and intermediate distances are comparatively unattractive: while the main interest of the landscape is thrown into the back ground, where mountains and torrents and castles forbid the eye to proceed, and nothing tempts it to trace its way back again. But in the works of the great Italian and
[Examinatio et Emendatio Mathematica hodierna. (Dial. II. vol. IV. p. 83 of Molesworth's edit.) S. C.]
[See the chapter p. 193, De nominibus novis Paracelsicis in his folio works, Leyden 1676. The words in brackets, are not in the original, and there are several omissions.-Ed. The sentence cited as from the Gorgias, is not contained, I believe, in that dialogue. S. C.]
Flemish masters, the front and middle objects of the landscape are the most obvious and determinate, the interest gradually dies away in the back ground, and the charm and peculiar worth of the picture consists, not so much in the specific objects which it conveys to the understanding in a visual language formed by the substitution of figures for words, as in the beauty and harmony of the colours, lines, and expression, with which the objects are represented. Hence novelty of subject was rather avoided than sought for. Superiour excellence in the manner of treating the same subjects was the trial and test of the artist's merit.
Not otherwise is it with the more polished poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, especially those of Italy. The imagery is almost always general: sun, moon, flowers, breezes, murmuring streams, warbling songsters, delicious shades, lovely damsels cruel as fair, nymphs, naiads, and goddesses, are the materials which are common to all, and which each shaped and arranged according to his judgment or fancy, little solicitous to add or to particularize. If we make an honourable exception in favour of some English poets, the thoughts too are as little novel as the images; and the fable of their narrative poems, for the most part drawn from mythology, or sources of equal notoriety, derive their chief attractions from the manner of treating them; from impassioned flow, or picturesque arrangement. In opposition to the present age, and perhaps in as faulty an extreme, they placed the essence of poetry in the art. The excellence, at which they aimed, consisted in the exquisite polish of the diction, combined with perfect simplicity. This their. prime object they attained by the avoidance of every" word, which a gentleman would not use in dignified conversation, and of every word and phrase, which
none but a learned man would use; by the studied position of words and phrases, so that not only each part should be melodious in itself, but contribute to the harmony of the whole, each note referring and conducting to the melody of all the foregoing and following words of the same period or stanza; and lastly with equal labour, the greater because unbetrayed, by the variation and various harmonies of their metrical movement. Their measures, however, were not indebted for their variety to the introduction of new metres, such as have been attempted of late in the Alonzo and Imogen, and others borrowed from the German, having in their very mechanism a specific overpowering tune, to which the generous reader humours his voice and emphasis, with more indulgence to the author than attention to the meaning or quantity of the words; but which, to an ear familiar with the numerous sounds of the Greek and Roman poets, has an effect not unlike that of galloping over a paved road in a German stage-waggon without springs. On the contrary, the elder bards both of Italy and England produced a far greater as well as more charming variety by countless modifications, and subtle balances of sound in the common metres of their country. A lasting and enviable reputation awaits that man of genius, who should attempt and realize a union ;-who
5 [Here is a stanza of this overpowering metre:A warriour so bold and a virgin so bright
Conversed as they sat on the green;
They gazed on each other with tender delight:
Mr. Southey adopted this metre for his popular ballad— Mary the Maid of the Inn. Poet. Works, 1838. vol. vi. p. 3. S. C.]