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THE

CALCUTTA REVIEW.

SEPTEMBER, 1857.

Art. 1.-1. Ina, and other Poems. By Miss LESLIE. Hay and

Co., Calcutta. 2. Ex Eremo, Poems chiefly written in India. By H. G. KEENE.

Blackwood, Edinburgh. 3. A Dream of a Star, and other Poems. Calcutta.

OUR

UR readers would not thank us, if we were to add to all that

has been written in elucidation of the question, "what is poetry ?” From the days of Aristotle to those of Leigh Hunt, few subjects of a kindred nature have given rise to speculations at once so profound and so beautiful; but we know of nothing so practically sensible, or which goes so directly to the heart of the matter, as a saying of Johnson's, in reply to the question of Boswell, “Sir, what is poetry ?" Why, sir, it is much easier to say

what it is not. We all know what light is, but it is not easy to tell what it is.” And, that, without being guided by any theory, men do know what poetry is, seems manifest from the manner in which true poetry is sooner or later recognised, and sifted from all counterfeits.

There is an universal appreciation of melody and rhyme. As by an instinct, all nations, even the rudest, shape their languages into poetic form. Like Pope, they

Like Pope, they "lisp in numbers; " even though the higher elements of poetry may be wanting. And this instinct is ever prepared to welcome him who will give it voice and shape. Hence the avidity with which even the uneducated adopt such songs and ballads as embody familiar incidents of love and war; and hence too, the readiness with which poets and their productions are welcomed.

But the glad reception accorded to poetry in its ordinary forms, is not the only proof that it is known-known in the

SEPT., 1857

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sense of being appreciated. This appreciation is perhaps more strikingly seen in the preference that is given to good poetry over bad, or in other words to real poetry; for according to a strict application of poetic laws, bad poetry is not poetry at all. It usually has happened that a great poet has at once and for ever taken possession of his crown, as by a kind of right divine which none felt inclined even for a moment to dispute. Homer, Shakespeare and Spenser have never had their genius called in question. If it has occasionally happened otherwise, there have been reasons for it. Milton's earlier productions appear to have been received as they deserved; for who could question the genius which gave birth to the magnificent “Hymn on the nativity of Christ,” to “ Lycidas," “ Ü’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso."

If his “ Paradise Lost” was not received by his cotemporaries, in a manner worthy of its merits, the cause is easily found in that intense prejudice and hate, with which the dominant party in the nation during the reign of Charles II., looked on everything which belonged to the Puritans. It was impossible for them to recognise any merit in aught that could emanate from the Secretary of Cromwell; albeit there was not perhaps in all England a man of loftier genius or nobler nature than that defamed, blind old man. But from the time when party spirit sufficiently subsided to allow men to judge impartially the works of their predecessors, there has been but one opinion about Milton as a poet. Wordsworth is the next great poet, whose merits were not at once recognised, save by a very few of his earliest cotemporaries. De Quincy tells us, that he had two enthusiastic admirers, himself and Professor Wilson! He reduces the number low enough; too low, indeed, for the demands of truth, we imagine; but it is certain, that his friends were few, and his decriers tolerably numerous. But for this, he had him. self to blame; he seemed intent on shewing how easy it is to descend from simplicity to silliness. Not content to write such exquisite poems as “Ruth," “Laodamia," "the Power of Sound," and “Dion;" he was led, by pushing a dangerous theory too far, to put forth such productions as “ Alice Fell,” “The Idiot Boy, ' and“ the Waggoner," as if to perplex the judgment of his readers, and keep in suspense his own reputation. Wordsworth now, we are inclined to think, holds his high position, not because of all that he has written, but in spite of one half of it; for the reputation of a writer is fixed much more by his best productions than by his worst.

The conclusion then to which we arrive, is this; that all poets, both small and great, will sooner or later receive their due at the hands of the community. The verdict may be delayed, but it will be a just one at last. Great poets are too few, and too dearly

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