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or two exceptions, familiar to all who have the slightest acquaintance with English literature. His remarks on particular quotations are often injudicious; his general reasonings, for the most part, unintelligible. Indeed he seems to think that meaning is a superAuous quality in writing, and that the task of composition is merely an exercise in varying the arrangement of words. In the lately invented optical toy we have a few bits of coloured glass, the images of which are made to present themselves in an endless variety of forms. Mr. Hazlitt's mind appears to be furnished in a similar manner, and to act in a similar way; for its most vigorous operations are limited to throwing a number of pretty picturesque phrases into senseless and fantastic combinations.
Mr. Hazlitt's work may be regarded as consisting of two parts; first, of general reasonings on poetry, under which we include his remarks on the characters of particular poets; secondly, of minute remarks upon the passages which he has quoted. The greater part of the volume belongs to the first of these classes; for though many fine extracts are given, little pains have been employed to bring their latent beauties into view. Looking upon such a task as too humble for his genius, Mr. Hazlitt prefers appearing chiefly in the character of a philosophical reasoner. In this choice he is unfortunate; for his mode of thinking, or rather of using words, is most singularly unpbilosophical. Some vague half-formed notion seems to be floating before his mind; instead of seizing the notion itself, he lays hold of a metaphor, or of an idea connected with it by slight associations: this he expresses; but after he has expressed it, he finds that he has not conveyed his meaning; another metaphor is therefore thrown out, the same course is trodden over and over again, and half a dozen combinations of phrases are used in vague
endeavours to express what ought to have been said directly and concisely in one. The mischief, thus originating in indistinctness of conception, is increased by the ambition of the writer. Mr. Hazlitt wishes to dazzle: but with no new matter to communicate, without an imagination capable of lending new force to old observations, and without skill to array them in appropriate language, he can only succeed (as Harlequin does with children) by surprizing us with the rapid succession of antic forms in which the same, or nearly the same thought is exhibited. He is ever hovering on the limits between sense and nonsense, and he trusts to the dimness of the twilight which reigns in that region, for concealing the defects of his arguments and increasing the power of his imagery. There is no subject on which it is of more importance that those terms only should be used whose meaning is well fixed, than in treating of the emotions and operations of the mind; but Mr. Hazlitt indulges bimself in a rambling inaccuracy of expression, which would not E E 4
bę tolerated even in inquiries, where there was little hazard of error from the vague use of words.
Next to want of precision, the most striking peculiarity of his style is the odd expressions with which it is diversified, from popular poets, especially from Shakspeare. If a trifling thing is to be told, he will not mention it in common language: he must give it, if possible, in words which the bard of Avon has somewhere used. Were the beauty of the applications conspicuous, we might forget, or at least forgive, the deformity produced by the constant stitching in of these patches; unfortunately, however, the phrases thus obtruded upon us seem to be selected, not on account of any
intrinsic beauty, but merely because they are fantastic and unlike what would naturally occur to an ordinary writer.
The most important of Mr. Hazlitt's general reasonings are contained in the first lecture. As a specimen of the work we shall extract the commencement, which bears evident marks of elaborate composition, and in which the intellect of the writer, fresh and unfatigued, may be expected to put forth its utmost vigour. He sets out with a definition of poetry.
' The best general notion,' he says, ' which I can give of poetry, is that it is the natural impression of any object or circumstance, by its vividness exciting an involuntary movement of imagination and passion, and producing, by sympathy, a certain modulation of the voice, or sounds, expressing it.'
This is not a definition of poetry—it neither is nor can be a definition of any thing, because it is completely unintelligible. The impression, of which Mr. Hazlitt talks, is an impression producing by sympathy a certain modulation of sounds. The term synipathy has two significations. In a physiological sense it is used to denote the fact, that the disorder of one organ produces disorder in the functions of certain other parts of the system. Does Mr. Hazlitt mean, that the impression produces the modulation of sound essential to poetry, in a mode analogous to that in which diseases of the brain affect the digestive powers ? Sympathy, again, in its application to the moral part of our constitution, denotes that law of our nature by which we share in the feelings that agitate the bosoms of our fellow creatures. This signification obviously will not suit Mr. Hazlitt's purpose. His meaning therefore must be left to himself to divine. One thing is clear, that the modulation of verse is the result of great labour, consummate art, and long practice; and that his words, therefore, can admit no interpretation, conformable to truth, till sympathy becomes synonimous with skill and labour.
The passage which immediately follows the definition, and is devoted to the illustration of it, can scarcely be equalled, in the whole compass of English prose, for rapid transitions from idea to idea, while not one gleam of light is thrown upon the subject; for the accumulation of incoherent notions; and for the extravagance of the sentiments, or rather of the combinations of words.
Poetry is the language of the imagination and the passions. It relates to whatever gives immediate pleasure or pain to the human mind. It comes home to the bosoms and businesses of men; for nothing but what so comes home to them in the most general and intelligible shape can be a subject for poetry. Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry cannot have much respect for himself, or for any thing else. It is not a mere frivolous accomplishment, (as some persons have been led to imagine,) the trifling amusement of a few idle readers or leisure hours—it has been the study and delight of mankind in all ages. Many people suppose that poetry is something to be found only in books, contained in lines of ten syllables, with like endings: but wherever there is a sense of beauty, or power, or harmony, as in the motion of a wave of the sea, in the growth of a flower that “ spreads its sweet leaves to the air, and dedicates its beauty to the sun,"—there is poetry in its birth. If history is a grave study, poetry may be said to be a graver: its materials lie deeper, and are spread wider. History treats, for the most part, of the cumbrous and unwieldy masses of things, the empty cases in which the affairs of the world are packed, under the heads of intrigue or war, in different states, and from century to century: but there is no thought or feeling that can have entered into the mind of
which he would be eager to communicate to others, or which they would listen to with delight, that is not a fit subject for poetry. It is not a branch of authorship: it is “ the stuff of which our life is made.” The rest is mere oblivion," a dead letter; for all that is worth remembering in life is the poetry of it. Fear is poetry, hope is poetry, love is poetry, hatred is poetry, contempt, jealousy, remorse, admiration, wonder, pity, despair, or madness, are all poetry. Poetry is that fine particle within us, that expands, rarifies, refines, raises our whole being: without it “ man's life is poor as beast's.” Man is a poetical animal : and those of us who do not study the principles of poetry, act upon them all our lives, like Molière's Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who had always spoken prose without knowing it. The child is a poet, in fact, when he first plays at hide-and-seek, or repeats the story of Jack the Giant-killer; the shepherd-boy is a poet when he first crowns his mistress with a garland of flowers; the countryman, when he stops to look at the rainbow; the city-apprentice, when he gazes after the Lord-Mayor's show; the miser, when he hugs his gold; the courtier, who builds his hopes upon a smile; the savage, who paints his idol with blood; the slave, who worships a tyrant, or the tyrant, who fancies himself a god.?-pp. 2–4.
Thus there is nothing which is not poetry, and poetry is every thing. It is a particular kind of language; it is a tine particle which produces certain chemical and mechanical effects ; it is the stuff of our lives; it is the important part of business; it is not a thing contained in books; it is fear, hope, jealousy, and twenty
other things besides ; in short it is the characteristical quality of our nature, for man is a poetical animal, and there is nobody who is not a poet; the miser, the slave, the tyrant, the child playing at hide and seek, the city apprentice-all, in Mr. Hazlitt's eye, are poets. The means, by which he arrives at these extravagant propositions, are sufficiently simple and common: the misapplication of words is the whole of his art. He employs the term poetry in three distinct meanings, and his legerdemain consists in substituting one of these for the other. Sometimes it is the general appellation of a certain class of compositions, as when he says
poetry is graver than history. Secondly, it denotes the talent by which these compositions are produced, and it is in this sense that he calls poetry that fine particle within us, which produces in our being rarefaction, expansion, elevation, and purification. Thirdly, it denotes the subjects of which these compositions treat.
It is in this meaning that he uses the term, when he says, that all that is worth remembering in life is the poetry of it; that fear is poetry, that hope is poetry, that love is poetry; and in the very same sense he might assert that fear is sculpture and painting and music, that the crimes of Verres are the eloquence of Cicero, and the poetry of Milton the criticism of Mr. Hazlitt. When he tells us, that though we have never studied the principles of poetry, we have acted upon them all our lives, like the man who talked prose without knowing it, we suspect that the common-place allusion at the end of the sentence has tempted him into nonsense at the beginning. The principles of poetry a reader would naturally imagine to be the chief rules of the art; but by that phrase Mr. Hazlitt means the principal subjects of which poetry treats. These are the passions and affections of mankind; we are all under the influence of our passions and affections; that is, in Mr. Hazlitt's new language, we all act on the principles of poetry, and are, in truth, poets. We all exert our muscles and limbs, therefore we are anatomists and surgeons; we have teeth which we employ in chewing, therefore we are dentists; we use our eyes to look at objects, therefore we are oculists; we eat beef and mutton, therefore we are all deeply versed in the sciences of breeding and fattening sheep and oxen.
Mr. Hazlitt will forgive us for anticipating these brilliant conclusions, which he no doubt intends to promulgate in a course of lectures at some future day; we clain no merit for announcing them; the praise, we admit, is exclusively his own, for they are merely legitimate inferences from his peculiar mode of abusing English.
As another specimen of his definitions we may take the following. •Poetry does not define the limits of sense, or analyse the distinctions of the understanding, but signifies the excess of the
imagination beyond the actual or ordinary impression of any object or feeling. Poetry was at the beginning of the book asserted to be an impression ; it is now the excess of the imagination beyond an impression : what this excess is we cannot tell, but at least it must be something very unlike an impression. Though the total want of meaning is the weightiest objection to such writing; yet the abuse which it involves of particular words is very remarkable, and will not be overlooked by those who are aware of the inseparable connection between justness of thought and precision of language. What, in strict reasoning, can be meant by the impression of a feeling? How can actual and ordinary be used as synonymous ? Every impression must be an actual impression; and the use of that epithet annihilates the limitations, with which Mr. Hazlitt meant to guard his proposition. In another part of his work he asserts, that' words are the voluntary signs of certain ideas.' By voluntary we suppose he means that there is no natural connection between the sign and the thing signified, though this is an acceptation which the term never bore before. In a passage already quoted, he says that wherever there is a sense of beauty, or power, or harmony, as in the motion of a wave of the sea, or in the growth of a flower, there is poetry in its birth.' Can the motion of wave, or the growth of a flower have any sense of beauty, or power, or harmony; or can either form a convenient cradle for newly born poetry? If he meant to place the beauty, and not the sense of beauty, in the wave and the flower, he ought to have expressed himself very differently.
One of the secrets of Mr. Hazlitt's composition is to introduce as many words as possible, which he has at any time seen or beard used in connection with that term which makes, for the moment, the principal figure before his imagination. Is he speaking, for instance, of the heavenly bodies-He recollects that the phrase square of the distance often recurs in astronomy, and that in Dr. Chalmers's Discourses a great deal is said about the sun and stars. Dr. Chalmers's Discourses, and the square of the distance, must, therefore, be impressed into his service, without caring whether they are or are not likely to be of the least use. There can never be another Jacob's dream. Since that time the heavens have gone farther off and grown astronomical. They have become averse to the imagination; nor will they return to us on the squares of the distances, or in Dr. Chalmers's Discourses. We really have not a variety of language adequate to do justice to the variety of shapes, in which unmeaning jargon is perpetually coming upon us in this performance. We can therefore only say, what we have said of so many other passages, that we have not the faintest conception of what is meant by the heavenly bodies returning on the squares of