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- R. Lowell.

ING.

pp. 216.

Art. VI. - 1. Paracelsus, a Poem. By ROBERT BROWN

London : Effingham Wilson. 1835. 2. Sordello, a Poem. By ROBERT BROWNING. Lon

don : Edward Moxon. 1840. pp. 253. 3. Bells and Pomegranates. By ROBERT BROWNING.

London : Edward Moxon. 1841–46.

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" Here we found an old man in a cavern, so extremely aged as it was wonderful, which could neither see nor go because he was so lame and crooked. The Father, Friar Raimund, said it were good (seeing he was so aged) to make him a Christian ; so we christened him." The recollection of this pious action doubtless smoothed the pillow of the worthy Captain Francesco de Ulloa under his dying head; and

! we mention it here, not because of the credit it consers on the memory of that enterprising and Catholic voyager, but because it reminds us of the manner in which the world treats its poets. Each generation makes a kind of death-bed reparation toward them, and remembers them, so to speak, in its will. It wreathes its superfluous laurel commonly round the trembling temples of age, or lays it ceremoniously on the coffin of him who has passed quite beyond the sphere of its verdict. It deifies those whom it can find no better use for, as a parcel of savages agree that some fragment of wreck, too crooked to be wrought into war-clubs, will make a nice ugly god to worship.

Formerly, a man who wished to withdraw himself from the notice of the world, retired into a convent. The simpler modern method is, to publish a volume of poems. The surest way of making one's self thoroughly forgotten and neglected is to strive to leave the world better than we find it. Respectable ghosts find it necessary to cut Shelley till the ban of atheism be taken off, though his son is a baronet,

a circumstance, one would think, which ought to have some weight in the land of shadows. Even the religious Byron is forced to be a little shy of him. Mr. Gifford, the ci-devant shoemaker, still sends a shudder through the better classes in Elysium, by whispering that Keats was a stable-boy and the friend of Hunt. Milton, to be sure, was seen shaking hands with him on his arrival ; but every body knows what he was. Burns sings rather questionable songs in a corner, with a VOL. LXVI. No. 139.

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parcel of Scotchmen who smell of brimstone. Coleridge preaches, with Lamb for a congregation.

Ever the same old story. The poor poet is put off with a draft upon Posterity, but it is made payable to the order of Death, and must be indorsed by him to be negotiable. And, after all, who is this respectable fictitious paymaster ? Posterity is, to the full, as great a fool as we are. His ears differ not from ours in length by so much as a hair's breadth. He, as well as we, sifts carefully in order to preserve the chaff and bran. He is as much given to paying his debts in shinplasters as we. But, even were Posterity an altogether solvent and trustworthy personage, it would be no less a piece of cowardice and dishonesty in us to shift our proper responsibilities upon his shoulders. If he pay any debts of ours, it is because he defrauds his own contemporary creditors. We have no right thus to speculate prospectively, and to indulge ourselves in a posthumous insolvency. In point of fact, Posterity is no better than a Mrs. Harris. Why, we ourselves have once enjoyed this antenatal grandeur. We were Posterity to that Sarah Gamp, the last generation. We laugh in our sleeves, as we think of it. That we should have been appealed to by so many patriots, philosophers, poets, projectors, and what not, as a convenient embodiment of the eternal justice, and yet be nothing more than the Smiths and Browns over again, with all our little cliques, and prejudices, and stupid admirations of ourselves !

We do not, therefore, feel especially flattered, when it is said, that America is a posterity to the living English author. Let us rather wish to deserve the name of a contemporary public unbiased by personal and local considerations. In this way, our geographical position may tend to produce among us a class of competent critics, who, by practice in looking at foreign works from a point of pure art, may in time be able to deal exact justice to native productions

Unfortunately, before we can have good criticism, it is necessary that we should have good critics; and this consummation seems only the farther off now that the business has grown into a profession and means of subsistence. Doubtless, the critic sets out with an ideal before him. His forereaching spirit shapes to itself designs of noble and gigantic proportions. Very early in life, he even conceives of reading the books he reviews. Soon, however, like other is born. And, indeed, though man is said to be the only animal which comes into the world entirely helpless, it would seem that an exception might be made in favor of the critic. He is often fully as competent to his task on the day of his birth, as at any other period during his life ; we might even say fitter. For, let him but make any dithyrambic penscratches upon a piece of paper, and the Society of Northern Antiquaries would discover therein a copy of some Runic inscription ; whereas even that enthusiastic body of scholars might fail to detect any latent meaning in the seemingly clearer productions of his maturer years. If the writing of books belong to one sphere of art, the writing of reviews belongs to another and more ingenious one. The two accomplishments make a happy antithesis. If the author endeavour to show how much he knows, the critic, on the contrary, seems striving to prove how much he can be ignorant of. The comprehension of our own ignorance is the latest and most difficult acquisition of experience. Is the critic to be blamed, that he starts in life without it? There are some things which he understands, and some which he does not. The defect of his mind is, that he cannot distinguish with enough precision between these two classes of ideas.

We wish it to be distinctly understood, that we are speaking of criticism upon works of art alone. With mere rhymers the critic ought to have nothing to do. Time will satirize and silence them effectually enough. For it is only in regard to judgment upon works of art that inspiration is conceded to the critic. For this only, no natural aptness, no previous study, is deemed necessary. Here reigns an unmixed democracy. One man's want of taste is just as good as another's, and it is the inalienable birthright of both. sentence on a President's Message, or a Secretary's Report, one needs to be up with the front of the time in his statistics and his political history. A half-hour's reading in Johnson's Lives of the Poets will furnish bim with phrases enough to lay Wordsworth on the shelf for ever.

We have not alluded yet to the greatest stumbling-block in the way of the critic. His position is not so much that of a teacher as of a representative. He is not expected to instruct, but rather to reflect, his constituency. He may be prejudiced or ignorant himself

, as it happens, but he must be the exponent of their united ignorance and prejudice. What

To pass

SUBGENUS, Nliberal; SPECIES, Conservative or Liberal; food, chiefly authors. One class is under contract to admire every author entirely without brains, — the other, to perform the same ceremony for him who has just enough to allow of a crack in them. They perform alternately the functions of Lucina and Charon. Sometimes it oddly enough chances that they undertake their duties simultaneously, and one is ushering an author into the world with prophecies of long life and prosperity, while the other is as gravely ferrying him out of it. If one stand godfather to a book, the other forthwith enters as coroner with a verdict of " found dead." Not unfrequently each unites in himself the two characters, and assists at the christening of some poor lump that never had life in it at all. In this way, every author has the inestimable privilege accorded him of sitting on two stools. If he have much of a soul in him, he kicks them both over ; if not, he subsides quietly between them and disappears for ever.

The necessary consequence of this state of things is, that no book is measured by any standard of art.

It is commended precisely in proportion as it has vibrated more or less widely on this or that side of the calm centre of rest into the misty region of partisanship. Or, yet worse, it is not the book, but the author, that is reviewed. This simplifies the matter still more.

We borrow a man's book merely to knock him over the sconce with, and in nine cases out of ten it is heavy enough to do the business effectually. It were a great blessing, could the present system be exactly reversed. The critic should write under his own name, while the book to be reviewed should be given him with that of the author carefully erased from the title-page. This lion's hide of anonymousness, what does it not cover! Wrapped in that, how safely does the small critic literally bray some helpless giant to death in his critical mortar ! It would be well for all of us, if we could be more thoughtful of our responsibilities, if we would remember that for us also that inexorable janua Ditis, the pastry-cook's shop, stands always open, that in the midst of literary life we are in the hands of the trunk-maker.

The mistake which lies at the bottom of all this confusion has been the supposition, that there is no absolute standard of excellence to which a book may be referred. It has been taken for granted, that the critic, as well as the poet,

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is born. And, indeed, though man is said to be the only animal which comes into the world entirely helpless, it would seem that an exception might be made in favor of the critic. He is often fully as competent to his task on the day of his birth, as at any other period during his life ; we might even say fitter. For, let him but make any dithyrambic penscratches upon a piece of paper, and the Society of Northern Antiquaries would discover therein a copy of some Runic inscription ; whereas even that enthusiastic body of scholars might fail to detect any latent meaning in the seemingly clearer productions of his maturer years. If the writing of books belong to one sphere of art, the writing of reviews belongs to another and more ingenious one. The two accomplishments make a happy antithesis. If the author endeavour to show how much he knows, the critic, on the contrary, seems striving to prove how much he can be ignorant of. The comprehension of our own ignorance is the latest and most difficult acquisition of experience. Is the critic to be blamed, that he starts in life without it? There are some things which he understands, and some which he does not. The defect of his mind is, that he cannot distinguish with enough precision between these two classes of ideas.

We wish it to be distinctly understood, that we are speaking of criticism upon works of art alone. With mere rhymers the critic ought to have nothing to do. Time will satirize and silence them effectually enough. For it is only in regard to judgment upon works of art that inspiration is conceded to the critic. For this only, no natural aptness, no previous study, is deemed necessary. Here reigns an unmixed democracy. One man's want of taste is just as good as another's, and it is the inalienable birthright of both. sentence on a President's Message, or a Secretary's Report, one needs to be up with the front of the time in his statistics and his political history. A half-hour's reading in Johnson's Lives of the Poets will furnish him with phrases enough to lay Wordsworth on the shelf for ever.

We have not alluded yet to the greatest stumbling-block in the way of the critic. His position is not so much that of a teacher as of a representative. He is not expected to instruct, but rather to reflect, his constituency. He may be prejudiced or ignorant himself, as it happens, but he must be the exponent of their united ignorance and prejudice. What

To pass

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