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sometimes to yield to the notion that our modern days are unpoetic, and that the sphere of imagination has been contracted by the influences of later times. But when this half century shall be looked back to from a distance, the judgment of posterity cannot but be that it was distinguished by great poetic fertility and power—a period that has produced many elaborate poems of a high order, and a large amount of such minor poetry, as may be seen, when such poetry is good, shining in modest beauty in the same sky with the larger luminaries. Considering the number of poets who have been successful in their appropriate spheres, the amount, the variety, and the merit of the poetry which the nineteenth century has already given to English literature, it may be more fitly compared with the Elizabethan age, rich as it was in the company of poets, than with any other period of our language. Indeed it
be added, that one cause of literary power in our times is to be discovered in this, that never before has there been such dutiful zeal for the revival and restoration of the elder literature; never before has that literature been so carefully and reverently studied. The best criticism on Shakspeare, on Spenser, on Milton, is that which this century has produced; and within the same time has there been the most earnest desire to promote the study of Bacon and the great divines.
In attempting to group, with reference to time, the poets of the present century—the poets of our own timessome curious considerations at once present themselves. It is now more than a quarter of a century since the death of Byron and of Shelley, both poets of a younger generation than Wordsworth; and we begin to think of them as belonging to past times, while the elder poet survives, now in his eightieth year. But what is more remarkable, there are living two poets, who were known as poets when Wordsworth was a youth-Bowles and Rogers, each on the verge of fourscore and ten. It seems scarcely credible that there should be living now a poet (I refer to Mr. Rogers) whose first poem was published sixty-four years ago, in 1786, fourteen years before the death of Cowper, (whom he has survived half a century,) and within a twelvemonth after the publication of the Task.* A subsequent poem of Rogers, "The Pleasures of Memory,” a subject of universal interest agreeably presented, established his reputation, and was no doubt the prompting of Campbell's poem on "Hope.” Rogers' higher poetic power is, however, to be found in a later work, which, appearing at a time when new poets had gained the public ear, never attained the same popularity as his earlier poem, which was more fortunate in its time. From the poem-I allude to the "Italy"-I am tempted to cite one passage for the sake of the fine picture it gives of an occurence of which I made a passing mention in a former lecture—the interview of Galileo and Milton:
“Nearer we hail
* This was written in 1850, and now, in 1855, this aged poet still lives, the survivor of him who thus spoke of him. W. B. R.
Some verse of Ariosto. There, unseen,
Of the other aged poet, William Lisle Bowles, who has survived so many of his brother bards, I can only remark, in so cursory a survey of the contemporary literature as this must be, that Coleridge acknowledged a deep obligation to his poems-a tribute which in itself is proof of some beauty and power in them.
The most decided and marked influence of a contemporary production is that which is known to have been exerted by Coleridge's Christabel-an influence that may be traced on the genius of Scott, Shelley, and Byron. It was an influence that Scott acknowledged with all his characteristic frankness, and Byron too, though with more reserve, for it was not his habit to acknowledge or perhaps to recognise such influences.
« Christabel” was circulated in manuscript many years before it was published; and, recited among the poets, it made, especially on their minds, an impression that proved an agency of poetic inspiration to them. Mr. Lockhart tells us that the casual recitation of “ Christabel” in Scott's presence so“ fixed the music of that noble fragment in his memory,” that it prompted the production of the “Lay of the Last Minstrel.”*
* Italy, p. 115.
It was a great lesson to the poets, in that it disclosed an unknown, or at least forgotten, freedom and power in English versification—a music the echoes of which are to be heard in the poems both of Scott and Byron. The grandeur of its imagery, too, moved the poets to whom it was made known, as in that sublime and familiar passage on a broken friendship:
“They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
The marks of that which once hath been." “Christabel” proved its influence over the poetry that followed, by the power with which both the natural and the supernatural were imaged in it; in the latter respect, particularly, Scott felt the power of the poem. There is probably nothing finer of its kind in poetry than those passages which tell of the wicked might of witchcraft in the
eye of the witch, who has assumed a beautiful human form: it is first felt as Christabel passes with her by the nearly extinct embers on the hall-hearth:
“They pass the ball that echoes still,
* Lockhart's Scott, vol. ii. p. 210.
But when the lady passed, there came
Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall.” And in that other passage, which shows the magic might of witchcraft in the witch's eye as she fascinates her mute victim with it, the shrinking up of the eye, the sudden dilation again when the look of innocence is counterfeited once more, and Christabel's unconscious imitation of the serpent-look that fascinated and appalled her :
“A snake's small eye blinks dull and shy,
The maid, alas! her thoughts are.gone;