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at once put an end to the intolerable nuisance which we call the Algerine Government, and that without any risk whatever of failure. It is further to be remembered, that this government means only a band of three or four thousand Turkish Janisaries, who tyrannize over the native Algerines as much as over the the Christians who fall into their hands; who chuse the Dey out of their own body; and are so far from submitting to any regular or hereditary authority, that the present Chief's sons serve as common soldiers in the corps from which he himself was taken. To put down this execrable dynasty, would be fully as great a blessing to its own subjects, as to those of the neighbouring States.
In justification of such a measure, we trust that enough has already been urged. A few words only are required to show, that, without gross inconsistency, we cannot neglect this duty. We stood foremost among the champions of Africa, and opposers
of the slave trade. But the miseries endured by the unhappy negroes are not greater than those of the Italians, Greeks and Spaniards, whose lot has been depicted in the course of these pages. Indeed, the slave trade of the Africans in the Mediterranean is considerably worse than that of the Europeans in the Atlantic; worse at least in its kind, though much less extensive. A moment's reflection may convince any one of this; for in the former case, the oppressor is the barbarian, and a barbarian.of the most savage and unprincipled caste; whereas, in the latter, with all its horrors, we must at least admit, that the sufferings of the slave are lighter, both because his master is more civilized, and because subjection is less severe to those who are less enlightened. While we are not even satisfied with doing all we can to prevent our own people from trading in African slaves, but are most righteously sounding the cry against this accursed traffic, in every tongue and in every clime, it is a prodigious inconsistency to permit the Africans to carry on a worse commerce in the blood of Europeans, and of those who have never bought or sold a single negro from the beginning of time. Against this abomination, our whole force should be bent, if necessary; but when a single blow could annihilate it, and we have only to obtain the consent of other nations whom we do not require to cooperate with us, what excuse can be imagined for our neither stirring ourselves, nor moving them in the cause? There is something monstrous in this departure from our own principles, and from the example set by us elsewhere, not only in the West, but in the recent deposition of the Kandian Tyrant.
Art. X. The City of the Plague, and other Poems. By John
Wilson. Author of the Isle of Palms, &c. 8vo. pp. 300.
Edinburgh, 1816. WE
E have often thought it unnatural to say, or to think, any
thing harsh of the innocent and irritable race of poets. Most other writers are apt, in a thousand ways, to excite our spleen, and mortify our vanity,—by pretending to instruct our ignorance, to refute our errors, or to expose our prejudices. They offend us, in short, by assuming a superiority over us, and either disturbing our favourite notions, or at least showing us how much we have still to learn. The poet alone has none of this polemic and offensive spirit. His sole business is to give pleasure, and to gain praise from all descriptions of men. He contradicts nobcdy, and refutes nothing ; but puts himself to a great deal of trouble for the sole purpose of raising delightful emotions in the breasts of his readers ;-and asks no other reward than that inward gratitude and approbation which, in such circumstances, it must be still more blessed to give than to receive. He is naturally to be regarded, therefore, as a benefactor to mankind-at least in purpose and design ; and we really think that he generally is so in fact and reality also: For though the degrees of pleasure which they afford are infinitely various, and usually bear no proportion either to the pains they have taken, or the opinion they entertain of their success, we think there are few poets (of course we do not speak of mere versemongers), from a candid perusal of whose works all who have any true relish for poetry may not derive a sensible gratification, or who may not be regarded as having added something to the stores of our most refined and ennobling enjoyments. For our own parts, therefore, we confess that we are inclined to look on the whole tribe not only with indulgence, but with gratitude; and that we have often been indebted for very considerable gratification to works which we should be somewhat ashamed to praise, and not very proud of having written-works too humble, or too full of faults, to be tolerated by critical readers, or recommended with safety to such as are not critical.
But though we generally endeavour to read poetry in this indulgent humour, we cannot always afford to criticize it in the same amiable spirit and that for reasons which we have explained, we believe, on some former occasion. Yet we are inclined to hope that, even in the discharge of this stern duty, it would not be difficult for an intelligent reader to trace the habitual operation of the same lenient principles which we have now been endeavouring to recommend ;--and, hardly as we have been accused of dealing with some poetical adventurers, we flatter ourselves that we have always manifested the greatest tenderness and consideration for the whole tuneful brotherhood. There are some faults, indeed, to which we have found it impossible to show any mercy : But to all those errors that arise out of the poetical temperament, or are at least consistent with its higher attributes, we venture to assert, that we have been uniformly indulgent in a very remarkable degree-and have shown more favour than any critics ever did before us to extravagance and exaggeration, when springing from a genuine enthusiasm--to redundant or misplaced description, when arising out of a true love of nature or of art,--and even to a little sickliness or weakness of sentiment, whenever it could be traced to an unaffected kindness of heart, or tenderness of fancy.
There are faults, however, as we have already hinted, incident to this branch of literature, for which we have little toleration; but we cannot think that our severity towards them should be construed into any want of indulgence to poets in general, since they are all of a kind that can only affect those who have a genuine veneration for the poetical character, and consist chiefly of apparent violations of its dignity and honour. Among the first and most usual, we might mention the indications of great conceit and self-admiration, when united with ordinary talents. Excellence in poetry is so high and so rare an excellence, as not only to eclipse, but to appear contrasted with all moderate degrees of merit. It has a tone and a language of its own, therefore, which it is mere impertinence in ordinary mortals to usurp; and when a writer of slender' endowmenis assumes that which is only allowed to the highest, he not only makes his defects more conspicuous, by exposing them to such overwhelming comparisons, but provokes and disgusts us by the manifest folly and vanity of his pretensions--which unlucky qualities come naturally to strike us as the most prominent and characteristic of his works, and effectually indispose us towards any trilling though real merits they may happen to possess. Another and a more intolerable fault, as more frequently attaching to su, perior talents, is that perversity or affectation which leads an author to distort or disfigure his compositions, either by a silly ambition of singularity, an unfortunate attempt to combine qualities that are truly irreconcileable, or an absurd predilection for some fantastic style or manner, in which no one but himself can perceive any fitness or beauty. In such cases, we are not merely offended by the positive deformities which are thus pro
duced, but by the feeling that they are produced wilfully and with much effort, and by the humiliating spectacle they afford of the existence of paltry prejudices and despicable vanities in minds which we naturally love to consider as the dwellingplace of noble sentiments and enchanting contemplations. Akin to this source of displeasure, but of a more aggravated description, is that which arises from the visible indication of any great moral defect in those highly gifted spirits, whose natural office it seems to be, to purify and exalt the conceptions of ordinary men, by images more lofty and refined than can be suggested by the coarse realities of existence. We do not here allude so much to the loose and luxurious descriptions of love and pleasure which may be found in the works of some great masters, as to the traces of those meaner and more malignant vices which appear still more inconsistent with the poetical character-the traces of paltry jealousy and envy of rival genius-of base servility and adulation to power or riches of party profligacy or personal spite or rancour-and all the other low and unworthy passions which excite a mingled feeling of loathing and contempt, and not only untune the mind for all fine or exalted contemplations, but at once disenchant all the fairy scenes whose creation must be referred to the agency of spirits so degraded.
Except when our bile is stirred by the display of such infirmities as these, we look upon ourselves as very indulgent judges of poetry; and believe we have, upon the whole, incurred the displeasure of the judicious much oftener by an excessive lenity, than by any undue measure of severity—for our rash and unqualified praises, than for our intemperate or embittered cen
In spite of all we have heard upon this subject, however, we still incline to adhere to our former system, and, to say the truth, are much more frequently disposed to repent us of our severities, than of our indulgence, -as it is the nature of all angry feelings to be short-lived, and is, at all events, so much more agreeable to contemplate what is beautiful than what is of fensive.
We do not know very well how we have been led into this long encomium on our own gentleness—unless it be that we are conscious of being more pleased with the volume before us than we feel any assurance that our readers will be. There is something extremely amiable, at all events, in the character of Mr Wilson's genius :--a constant glow of kind and of pure affection -a great sensibility to the charms of external nature, and the delights of a private, innocent, and contemplative life--a fancy richly stored with images of natural beauty and simple enjoyments-great tenderness and pathos in the representation of suf
ferings and sorrow, though almost always calmed, and even brightened, by the healing influences of pitying love, confiding piety, and conscious innocence. Almost the only passions with which his poetry is conversant, are the gentler sympathies of our nature--tender compassion-confiding affection, and guiltless sorrow.
From all this there results, along with a most touching and tranquillizing sweetness, a certain monotony and languor, which, to those who read poetry for amusement merely, will be apt to appear like dullness, and must be felt as a defect by all who have been used to the variety, rapidity, and energy of the more popular poetry of the day. The poetry before us, on the other hand, is almost entirely contemplative or descriptive. There is little incident, and no conflict of passion or opposition of character. The interest is that of love or of pity alone: there is no entanglement of situation, no opposition of interests--no struggle of discordant feelings. There is not even any delineation of guilt, or any scene of vengeance, resentment, or other stormy passion. The effect of the piece, at least, never depends upon such elements. The author seems to have written just to embody the scenes and characters on which he had most pleasure in dwelling—and his chief art consists in fixing his eye intently upon them-and drawing them with the truth, the force, the fondness and the fullness of complete portraits of beloved objects. In pursuing this pleasing occupation, he was not likely to become so soon wearied as the comparatively indifferent spectators in whose eye he was working; -and from this has resulted another fault-the excessive diffuseness and oppressive fulness of most of his pictures and details-which has inevitably led to occasional weakness in the diction, and a want of brilliancy and effect in the colouring of the style. Still, however, there is a charm about the work, to which it would be unfortunate, we think, to be insensible-a certain pastoral purity, joined with deeper feelings, and more solemn and impressive images than belong to pastoral--and reflecting, if not the more agitated and deeply shaded scenes of adventurous life, an enchanting image of peace, purity, and tenderness, which, we hope, is not more unlike the ordinary tenor of actual existence.
The most important piece in the present volume, is a dramatic poem entitled, • The City of the Plague, '-by which is meant London, during the great sickness of 1666. Most of our readers are probably familiar with De Foe's history of that great calamity-a work in which fabulous incidents and circumstances are combined with authentic narratives, with an art and a verisimilitude which no other writer has ever been able to commu. nicate to fiction. A great part of Mr Wilson's materials, and