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the predominating character and quality of his performances. If the character of a Poet be concentrated within a single line, it has been the result of painful analysis. It is hoped that no precipitate judgment will be formed with respect to the decision that is made. When the reader has investigated, balanced, viewed, and reviewed every particular, his opinion may be candid and impartial. May the author be allowed to suggest, that a judgment, determined by the genius and execution of isolated pieces, is scarcely possible to be correct. Peculiar predilections for some particular author, and a circumscribed acquaintance with the Poets, will necessarily induce a warmth of partiality, which more general perusals would at once moderate and cool. He who has read “ Thomson's Seasons,” often speaks with as invincible dogmatism and supercilious animadversion as if he had read Chaucer and Spenser; or rather, I may, more justly, observe, as if he had never seen them.
Many, especially modern, Poets will not be found in the following sketches. This, however, does not arise from invidious distinction; but, from the fact, that, of many authors, brilliant in talent, and superior in merit, numbers must ever remain dis
regarded ; and that the estimate of their deservings would be too hazardous, at least, for the present. The apotheosis of a character is the work of a century; and even the estimate of genius should pass seven times through the furnace of criticism, before it can appear without dross and alloy. If, therefore, any individuals appear unfairly dealt with, it would be base to remain inflexible to just representation.
Little is said of any, except one; and for this, we presume, no apology will be needed. It was what the author conceived to be the abuse of splendid genius, in him, that gave rise to this Poem ; and if he be treated with unsheltered and unmitigated severity, let it be remembered, that the censure is not the acrimonious satire of complacency, but the serious reprobation of sorrow and disgust. Genius is not dismissed without legitimate praise ; but Religion is supported with fearless resolution. The author knows that he stands on the platform of Truth and Virtue; and though he may not be intimidated by the venal logomachy of the scribbler, nor the impertinent, as ignorant, animadversions of the sciolist; nor be awed into silence by the merciless anathemas of hypercritical malignity; he would, nevertheless, be ashamed of that obstinate
pertinacity which precludes improvement from judicious observations.
By the unanimous suffrage of the intelligent and pious, that man has been accounted a Benefactor to his species, who, with justly merited severity, exposes productions, which tend, in an awful degree, to demoralise the juvenile class, the flower and the hope of our country. And who can blame the productions, without censuring the men?
This metrical mode of conveying his sentiments has been adopted by the author, with the view, that they might be more generally read, and more powerfully impressed upon the mind. The reason assigned by Mr. Pope, in the Preface to his beautiful (but not unexceptionable) “Essay on Man,” may corroborate this expectation. “I found,” says he, “I could express my ideas more shortly, this way than in prose itself; and nothing is truer, than that much of the force, as well as the grace guments or instructions, depends on their conciseness.” If brevity, strength, and interest be gained, the preference is decided.
A subject, in itself didactic and critical, admits neither the charms of the beautiful, the corruscations of the surprising, nor the emportement of the
sublime. It will fail to amuse, but not to instruct. It will not raise delight, but may correct error. The following performance, therefore, may bring no palm of superiority to the Poet; but he will consider himself sufficiently rewarded, if it command the respect usually entertained for the Friend of Religion and Virtue.
An important topic, however, deserves, in this place, impartial discussion. It is maintained, by some critics, that sacred subjects are by no means adapted to poetical composition. This little work proceeds entirely upon an opposite view of the question. To establish our position, we must encounter no less a writer than that colossal critic, Dr. Johnson. What Johnson writes, men, even of penetrating intellect, often admit, without suspicion of error. That man, indeed, must be a contemptible sciolist, who would not pause, and pause again, before he could trust himself to differ from so profound and accurate a Philologist. On the present subject, notwithstanding, the Doctor seems to have made an aberration from his usual acuteness of discrimination. We quote his own words: “From Poetry the reader justly expects, and from good Poetry always obtains, the enlargement of his com
prehension, and the elevation of his fancy; but this is rarely to be hoped for, by Christians, from metrical devotion. Whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprised in the name of the Supreme Being. Omnipotence cannot be exalted ; Infinity cannot be amplified ; Perfection cannot be improved. All that pious verse can do is to help the memory and delight the ear; and for these purposes it may be very useful; but it supplies nothing to the mind. The ideas of Christian Theology are too simple for eloquence, too sacred for fiction, and too majestic for ornament; and to recommend them by tropes and figures is to magnify by a concave mirror the sidereal hemisphere.
This is the substance of the Doctor's reasoning. Doubtless there is something, in the march of this apparent demonstration, very magnificent.. But a little calm reflection will disentangle and expose the splendid sophistry. His expectations from Poetry are legitimate, but his decision with respect to sacred Poetry is, we conceive, inadmissible. That “metrical devotion has rarely a tendency to enlarge the comprehension and elevate the fancy,”
* Johnson's Life of Waller. “Lives of the Poets."