1. Cain the Wanderer, and other Poems. 8vo. London 1830.
2. The Revolt of the Angels, and the Fall from Paradise. An Epic Drama. By Edmund Reade, Esq., Author of Cain the Wanderer. 8vo. London: 1830.
Perhaps there never has been a time since the prosaic days of Whitehead and Hayley, in which so little good poetry has issued from the press, as during the last two years. That some meritorious poems have been published within this period, we do not deny — but we think that even they who look with partially indulgent eyes on the efforts of contemporary poets, will scarcely venture to affirm, that any poetical works have lately appeared which have made much impression on the public taste, or have the slightest prospect of permanent popularity. Yet, with the exception of one or two great names, we still possess all those eminent writers who have made the first twenty years of the present century as distinguished in the annals of our poetry, as the days of Elizabeth and Anne. Scott, Moore, Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Campbell, Crabbe, Milman, Rogers, Bowles, and others whom the recollection of our readers can easily supply, are still living among us, and in the full enjoyment of their poetical powers. But they write no poetry; and, what is perhaps stranger — we do not expect it. We are content, even when fresh from the re-perusal of their former poems, to receive from their hands only prose; and "prose by a poet," instead of being an object of foolish and distrustful wonder, is now almost the one thing sought. Whence, we may ask, does this arise, at a time when the activity of the public press exceeds all that has been ever known in this or any other country — when education is more diffused — the thirst for information greater — and the means to satisfy it more abundant than perhaps at any former period of our literary history? Various causes may be assigned for this phenomenon. It may be said, that an excess of poetry, and an abundance of that which was really excellent, has produced satiety and fastidiousness. The public taste has been cloyed with dainties — and over-excitement is succeeded by indifference. This may be true to some extent; but there are other causes which have no reference to our recent abundance of poetical treasure. The spirit of the age is not eminently favourable to poetry. We say this not in disparagement, either of the spirit of the present age, or of poetry. Our observation is strictly compatible with praise of both. The circumstance we have noticed, arises from the greater spread of knowledge and thirst for information, and from a more just appreciation of the powers of poetry, and that relative place and importance which it ought to occupy in literature. We now say more generally, as Horace did, "Non satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto." We regard poetry not as our daily mental food, but as a sweet and costly fruit, of which, though we derive from it greater pleasure, we partake more sparingly, and less often, than of the homely prose which constitutes the staple aliment of our minds. We more judiciously assign to poetry that which is its peculiar office. We require not so much that it shall instruct, as that it shall interest and delight us. We require that it shall appeal to our imagination and our feelings, rather than to our judgment. It is true, it may be rendered a vehicle for conveying information, and frequently was so rendered in early times; and even so were the painted scrolls of the Mexicans, in the infancy of their civilisation, employed as a substitute for writing; but instruction is not more an essential quality in a poem than in a picture. There are many who will protest against any such limitation of the powers of poetry; and, like the currier in the homely adage, who would propose to fortify a town with leather, claim for it a capability of doing not only that which is its peculiar province, but any thing else that is good and desirable. Laws, history, and ethics, were promulgated by the aid of poetry in that infancy of literature when the judgment could scarcely be appealed to, except through the medium of the imagination; but not only is that early time long past, but also that comparatively recent period, when verse was considered good as verse — and poetry was thought little more than metre — and almost all subjects were held to be susceptible of treatment in a metrical form. Then flourished the didactic poem, which, under the fallacious promise of amusement, told only that in verse which could have been better told in prose, and which, if so told, we should never have sought for the entertainment of our more vacant hours, or for the improvement of our feelings and our tastes. Then was the public expected to admire among the foremost efforts of the contemporary Muse — "The Fleece," by Dyer, and "The Sugar Cane," by Grainger, where they were taught how wool was converted into broad cloth, and made conversant with the mysteries of muscovado and molasses. We now turn with some degree of surprise as well as of mirth to the last mentioned poem. We read in the "argument," at the head of one of its "books," such promises of poetical recreation as the following: — "The necessity of a strong clear fire in boiling." — Planters "should always have a spare set of vessels, because the iron furnaces are apt to crack, and copper vessels to melt. — Sugar, an essential salt — what retards its granulation — good muscovado described. — When the sugar is of too loose a grain, and about to boil over the teache, or last copper, a little grease settles it, and makes it boil closer. — Of the skimmings — their various uses. — Of rum." Such were once considered fit subjects for poetry, and such subjects were thus treated—
But chief, thy lime the experienced boiler loves,
Nor loves ill-founded; when no other art
Can bribe to union the coy floating salts,
A proper portion of this precious dust
Cast in the wave, (so showers alone of gold
Could win fair Danae to the god's embrace,)
With nectar'd muscovado soon will charge
Thy shelving coolers, which severely press'd
Between the fingers not resolves, and which
Rings in the cask; and or a light-brown hue,
Or thine, more precious silvery grey, assumes.
When verses like these were written seriously, and as seriously admired, it is evident, not only that the poetical standard was low, but that verse was respected as verse, no matter how deficient in superior qualities, and that to read such productions was not so much the pleasure as the duty of all who claimed to be well educated and accomplished, and to possess a competent acquaintance with the Belles Lettres. The times are changed. Education has become less superficial, and we are in less danger of taking the ornamental for the essential — the fringe and embroidery for the clothing — the foliage on the capital for that which gives strength and stability to the edifice. It is not that we less admire the beautiful, but we are less prone to confound it with that which is useful. We observe more strictly that division of labour, which, in mental as in mechanical operations, is highly conducive to the perfection of the result. We turn to prose for information; from poetry we require that it shall interest our feelings, and excite our imagination. To this assignment of poetry to its proper place, to this treatment of it as a literary luxury, we may, among other reasons, attribute the small share which it occupies in the reading of the present day. The more we are disposed to look to poetry for the highest and most delightful species of mental excitement, and the more exquisite the gratification to our taste which we expect from this source, the less shall we be satisfied with any, of which the inferior excellence prevents its producing a powerful impression. Towards mediocrity in poetry, the public is becoming every day less tolerant. Few poems have a chance of being much read, unless their merits are of a very high order, or there is something strange, novel, and attractive in their subject. The public taste seems also to have decided that a poem must not be long. The pleasurable excitement which ought to arise from the perusal of poetry is, like that produced by music or painting, necessarily of short duration. We know it is impossible for the most ardent admirer of those arts to listen very long to the most exquisite music, or gaze long upon the finest paintings, without some sensation of fatigue — not merely fatigue to the organs of sense, but lassitude and satiety succeeding to the prolonged excitement of the feelings and imagination. Such is also the effect of poetry, if read, not tamely and without interest, but with that intense and lively satisfaction, which it is comparatively valueless if it does not produce.
The consequence of our treating poetry differently, — of our demanding from it a much higher species of gratification than that with which our forefathers were content, is very naturally this, that we read less poetry, and only such as is of the highest stamp. This is the consequence as regards the readers; as for the writers, it follows naturally that there should be fewer, as compared with those who engage in other departments of literature. It has become inadvisable (to use an agricultural metaphor) to pursue a species of husbandry in which none but the best soils will yield a remunerating produce. Even they whose poetical powers are of acknowledged excellence, are fearful of encountering failure, and disappointing a public to which they cannot always afford novelty and originality, and which they might chance to weary by producing only imitations of their former successful efforts. Another consequence of the present feeling with regard to poetry is, that it is now more expressly calculated to administer that excitement which we expect from it. There has been a gradual change from the tame and didactic, to poetry the most stirring, romantic, and impassioned. The poetry of the last twenty years has been more the poetry of feeling than that of any other period. There have also been more striking and marvellous varieties of subject; more fresh soil has been broken up; there has been a louder call for originality; and, on the whole, a more exciting appeal, both to our emotions and to our love of novelty. Commending, on the whole, this change, we still cannot say that it is unmixed good. The alloying qualities which we encounter are, eccentricity and exaggeration, — a false and feverish view of nature, — a proneness to mystify and distort, — a proneness, also, to travel out of the homely "working-day world," — to pass even the bounds of time and space in search of themes. One of the principal characteristics of the poetry of the last few years is, its choice of subjects, with which none but the mightiest genius could effectively grapple, and in treating which the employment even of the mightiest genius is of questionable taste and wisdom. Pictures of other states of being are now familiarly set before us; we have Visions of Heaven, of Hell, and of Creation. The Revolt of the Angels, and the Field of Armageddon, must help us to beguile the listlessness of a vacant hour; half-fledged poets must try their wings beyond the narrow limits of the visible world; despising earthly standards of vicious grandeur, they adopt for their hero Satan,' and talk as familiarly of the "crack of doom," "as maids of fifteen do of puppy dogs."
Of this class is the gentleman on whose high-sounding works we have undertaken to comment. The titles of the poems in his first publication are, "Cain the Wanderer," "A Vision of Heaven," "Darkness," and "On Deity:" in his second, "The Revolt of the Angels," "The Fall from Paradise," and "A Vision of Creation." The selection of such subjects by a hitherto unknown poet, for his earliest efforts, may be thought to savour of boldness, if not of presumption; but with this choice, perhaps, the age is a little chargeable, and Mr. Reade must be in some sort absolved. A poet of moderate powers must, in order to be read and produce an effect, have recourse to something analogous to what in theatrical matters is called a clap-trap. The advantage of subjects such as those chosen by Mr. Reade is, that they not only astonish by their sublimity, but create, a priori, a very favourable presumption of the powers of the author who has ventured to undertake them. There are many who think, that to treat a subject which presents to us another sphere and state of existence, must be immeasurably more difficult than to pourtray the scenes and occurrences of this world, and of beings constituted like ourselves. This, however, we doubt, and for several reasons. The writer who undertakes such subjects, can revel undisturbed in the most unbounded license. There are no troublesome tests by which the truth of his delineations can be tried. No charge of inconsistency, of improbability, of defective description, can easily be advanced against him. He absolves himself from almost all those rules to which authors are usually amenable. Every one who has tried must know, that it is not at all an easy matter to represent nature as it is; and that it is much easier to set up a nature of one's own, and to attend only to the promptings of one's own imagination. One must he careful, in drawing the characters of men, to make them conformable to the principles of human nature; but the demi-god and the demon may be made to pursue any course of sentiment or action, without its being easy to demonstrate the impropriety. It is easy, too, for writers whose ideas are not very distinctly defined, to turn even this defect to some account in the treatment of such subjects, by enveloping them with a sort of misty vagueness, which, acting like the natural mist on external objects, invests them with an apparent grandeur, which the idea, if more clearly conveyed, would not be found to possess.
Mr. Reade has not only selected subjects on which, though it maybe easy to write something, it is extremely difficult to write any thing good, but has boldly measured his strength against Milton and Byron. Those who have read the powerful drama "Cain," may have the pleasure of reading a continuation from the pen of Mr. Reade. Lord Byron's "Darkness" is well known — Mr. Reade has also written a poem on Darkness. A new survey of the ground which we thought had been left to Milton, is presented in Mr. Reade's second publication, wherein we find the "Revolt of the Angels," and the "Fall from Paradise." It is but justice to the former of these poems to say, that there is nothing in it which is very like Milton's; and that, in the latter, our author is effectually prevented from clashing with him, by a happy departure from the history which we find in Genesis. Availing himself of a suggestion of Goethe's, he makes Lucifer the creator of Adam, and leaves to the Deity only the task of creating Eve!
The longest and most elaborate of Mr. Reade's productions is "Cain the Wanderer," which, he tells us, he surrenders "to candour and time, with a calm confidence; knowing that they are the tests which, sooner or later, pass a just and impartial judgment on all things." In the dialogue which serves as a preface to "Cain," he very properly professes an aversion to puffs. "Not one puff," says he, "shall my book have, if I can help it. I will have no articles written for it by friends, or write any myself. I do not remember that our old standard poets ever flew to these pitiful resources; — neither will I." The determination is worthy of a man conscious of genius. But favourable criticisms must not be stigmatized as "puffs;" and it is therefore quite compatible with the above to say, in the preface to his second publication, "If the opinions passed on it" (i.e. "Cain the Wanderer") "by the fit audience though few," were the objects of my ambition, and for which I wrote, as they certainly were, then, that my point was gained, will best appear by a few of the chief public testimonies respecting it, which I have retained in this volume, — not from motives of vanity and self-love, but as sterling proofs, which I can turn to with an honest satisfaction, to show that I fully succeeded in the hazardous subject I undertook." We turn to these "public testimonies" "retained in this volume," and collect from a rich banquet of daily, hebdomadal, and monthly criticisms, that Cain is "written in the very tone and spirit of Lord Byron, and in execution equal," — that it is "equally nervous, equally close, equally argumentative," — that "we have had nothing in poetry at once so high and so pure for many years," — that "in depth of thought and power of imagination it has scarcely an equal," — that it is "beyond all comparison the finest poem that has been published since the days of Byron," — and that "for loftiness of conception, boldness and magnificence of imagery, depth of feeling, variety and extent of thought, we should be puzzled to find its, equal." It is difficult to approach a work so praised with that cool judgment and moderated expectation with which we ought to apply ourselves to the task of criticism; but we will try. As for the object and tendency of the drama, to avoid mistakes we will let the author speak for himself:—
"I have endeavoured to develope Cain as a powerful and daring mind, of which pride is the basis, as it is that of almost all strong minds; mistaking his own impulses and acts of passion as predestinations of Deity, instead of the natural effects of unformed and unthwarted principles. From hence arises the struggle to oppose such supposed influence, and cling to good, not from feeling the beauty of its nature, but from the same opposition of pride which would blindly set itself against the decrees of Providence, and act according to its own. Consequently from this are doubts, questionings, and wavering faith, which, though fed and strengthened by the Tempter, by argument, and visible signs, are never wholly overthrown. To escape from this state of restlessness, he seeks arid obtains a temporary forgetfulness in a higher realm of sense and imagination; the cup is exhausted, and then nothing is left to fly to; and, the wreck of himself, he stands an example, that happiness, which is peace and tranquillity of mind, cannot be founded on baseless pride or on the senses, but stands on the purity and fixedness of early-instilled principles, on faith, on hope, and, on content; and, these overthrown, is lost for ever. In short, in Cain I have developed man as he is; his early thoughts, and hopes, and trials, and yieldings, and wrestlings, and his despair; perhaps, too, here and there, to quote the words of poor Schutze—
The bliss, the bale, through which my heart hath run,
Are mirrored in the story's mystic wave."
The Drama has a Prologue, which is a sort of paraphrase of the commencement of the Book of Job. It opens with "The Lord and the Host of Heaven," to whom enters Lucifer, and says,—
Therefore do I come;
To prove supremacy with him on clay
Where he hath stamped his impress: let Cain be
The mark of trial between us, and do ye
Look on, and the superior power obey.
Evil and good already he bath known:
One he hath tried, rejected, the other's fruit
Is bitter: he hath prayed, although now mute
In his despair, and shall again, and own
Him as his god who then will hear and aid.
Mark him, ye seraphs! and in him behold
If man, the dust-formed, can be happy there:
If soul mixed up with baser mould,
Waging against it an unequal strife
With petty wants and lusts, which yielded, bless
The craving appetite, and then depress,
Leaving a lead-like weight, a sickening sense
Of pain and weariness, and a despair
Heavier on the heart, from the intense
Feeling of having yielded to forbidden
Passion; and yet which checked, like a flame hidden,
Preys on the sands of life,
Too brief, too frail, even in their natural course
Can man be happy thus? regret, remorse,
Fear, which is hate disguised, shall still be his.
Lucifer says much more, but we forbear quoting the rest of his speech, for we do not think he is made quite so eloquent as he ought to have been. The opening scene brings before us Cain, Ada his wife, and their son Enoch. Cain awakes, and describes to Ada a vision which was "not a vision," and which description will afford a fair and favourable specimen of the author's style.
CAIN. It was not a vision,
But a reality as distinct as thee
I look on now. I stood upon the heath:
I' the distance stretched our father's tents; before me
The spot where Abel — it was night, but starless
I looked back to the pleasant home I had left,
I heard their evening hymn, and my heart swelled
With half-forgotten memories! I envied
Their quiet happiness I felt that I
Might have been happy! when methought I heard
The voice of Abel calling me as wont.
I turned and saw—
CAIN. Him, the Fallen One!
I gazed and stood in fascination fixed
I could not move away, I felt his power.
I knew, as from instant prescience, he was
The inspirer of my thoughts, which but for him
Perchance had never been; that he stood there
The ruler of my destiny. I saw
He was interior to One; for the pride
And sullen majesty on his dark brow showed
He was not what he would be; he seemed shorn
Of the lightning splendours he might once have walked in,
But, like the sun, he drew towards him more
In his setting glory! His vast wings were furled:
But intense light from his grand presence shone,
Making the darkness visible; one hand
He stretched towards me, motioning me on:
The other, uplifted, pointed into space,
Which, as the clouds rolled surging back, I saw
Sparkling with distant worlds. "Why, Cain," (his voice,
Methinks, thrills through me still) — "why on the earth
Dwell'st thou an outcast? Follow me, if still
The same high spirit is in thee to be free,
And strive against a nature which would else
Obscure its essence, grovelling like thy kindred
In dust and blindness; shake off thy bonds of clay,
And 'midst yon worlds thou shalt be happy yet.
Thou know'st, thou feelest who I am — arise,
And follow me."
ADA. And thou—
CAIN. I followed him!
Cain leaves his wife and child, and sets forth alone on his wanderings. In this his solitude, Lucifer appears to him; and then follows a great deal of very abstruse disquisition, in which it appears to be Lucifer's object to mystify and puzzle Cain, and in which he seems to be as successful as his skill deserved. Cain is then taken by the Tempter through various scenes; first, to "the centre of the earth," where he sees "masses of glorious shapes, all indistinct!" and is told to "behold the elements in their central force, which formed the whole around them, and are here renewing ever." He asks where a stream of fire leads, and is told—
To the great heart of the earth, whence it reflows,
Veining her arid breast with life and vigour,
Ebbing again, to be again renewed.
Cain again asks—
What are these broken masses near us, rounded
As the trunks of trees, but of a dazzling whiteness,
And stamped with unknown imagings?
They are, replied Lucifer,
The pillars of the dwellings of earth's kings,
Built to eternize them as they hoped on earth.
Lucifer next transports his victim to what Mr. Reade calls "the void of space," when Cain, whose "brain reels," looks round at the stars, and exclaims—
Oh, that I were the Maker of them all!
Oh, that I were a god! a being unknowing
Or time or grief or change! that I might sit
Throned 'midst this infinity of starry worlds,
Of all their wonders, men, or gods, and climes,
After this wild and exorbitant wish, which the Devil's superior sense of propriety induces him to chide, Cain is taunted with an ignoble desire to return to the earth which he had left. He answers—
Never, spirit, never! what? revisit
The places where I walked in ignorance
And agony; stained too with guilt, and horror,
And vain remorse? To see the averted eyes
Of my father and Eve, and perhaps hear their curses?
My Ada, too; no — she would not reproach me;
It was not in her gentle nature! but
She would look on me, and that look would
Have more of power than any of their words.
O never will I prove this, living; my dust
May flee there as thou say'st, but I as now,
Upon which Lucifer rejoins—
Thou art deceived by a seeming strength
Of will and purpose, which exist not in thee.
What fixed principle hast thou to oppose,
And model elements that are your life?
Where was this will, self, thought, and consciousness,
When they met and formed ye? They were impulses
That dwelt apart, innate in each, until
They joined in thee their breathing compound, from whence
They shall separate, and unmake thee, in despite
This fantasy of a self apart which rules them.
To will — that self should be unchangeable,
With power to reject the senses' every impulse,
On which thy very life depends; to be
Uninfluenced by motive, choice, or aim,
Or end, or any passion, blind, and motionless;
To be insensate, which is not to be.
And is it so? Do ye not still look back
In your brief being, and marvel how most fixed
Resolves were broken and contemned? but once
Imagined as unchangeable as are
Thy present impresses; still unaware,
They are already hastening to join them,
Urged on by others growing, and impelling thee
Still forward unresistiugly. So that
Will, thought, and passion, are as straws, borne on
The surface of being, dependent and blown by
The breath of circumstance; the current changing,
But the elements of nature still the same.
After this, Lucifer shows to Cain two other scenes — "the world in warfare," and "the world in deluge," which last is among the best in the drama. He is then conducted to the paradise of an imaginary being, half woman half angel, called "Heilel," where he is steeped in pleasures which prove unsatisfactory; and, tired of the rather scandalous life which he is living in the society of Heilel, he bethinks him of his deserted wife; and, quitting the mistress of whom he had grown weary, revisits his former home. Ada has died in his absence, — he finds her grave, and throws himself upon it, — laments a while, and then rises to seek his father Adam. The last scene is in Adam's tent, and the catastrophe is thus told:
ENOCH (from without.) Help! — save me, save me!
He is coming — is upon me!
[ENOCH rushes in from behind, and hides himself behind ADAM.
ADAM. Heedless boy! Why break'st thou thus into the house of mourning?
ZILLAH. Take breath and speak — what is it frights thee, Enoch?
ENOCH. I was bearing fresh flowers to strew my mother's bed,
When a shape I had never seen sprung hastily
From the grass, and stretched his arms out and pursued me:
I looked not in my fear, but fled, and flying,
Shot back my arrow as my father taught me,
And — hark! there is a heavy tread!
ADAM. A fall!
[ADAM opens the door of the tent, and the body of CAIN falls within.
EVE. The hand of God is over us! Behold
THE WANDERER RETURNED!'
Our readers will now be enabled to form some opinion of the style of Mr. Reade. It is on his style alone that we shall animadvert; for we have no wish to enter at present into any discussion on the tendency of his works, and his selection and treatment of scriptural subjects. He is skilled in ambiguity; and can give a seeming force and value to even ordinary expressions, by employing them in unusual modes, and so connecting them as to destroy their common acceptation, and leave only a mysterious no-meaning, so exquisitely metaphorical, that, in our difficulty to comprehend it thoroughly, we are glad, if possible, to think it fine. A rich clutter of poetical terms, when involved with tolerable intricacy, will frequently pass current with a great majority of readers, who rest satisfied with a general impression that what they have been perusing must be something very beautiful and sublime, but without being able to collect any one distinct image. There is much of this specious incorrectness in the poems before us; and it is only necessary to analyse any of the most seemingly high-wrought passages to discover it. Take the following, for instance, over which we have no doubt many a fair reader may have murmured "beautiful!"
Her lips are parted, and move like rose-leaves opening
To the invisible airs. Her hair, how lightly
Doth its pale golden wreaths in tangled
Luxuriance cluster down that neck, and rest
On her white bosom, where the violet vein
Sheds a dim lustre!
What a store of poetical phrases is here! "Opening rose leaves" — "golden wreaths" — "tangled luxuriance" — "white bosom" — "violet vein" — "dim lustre!" But let us try how they hang together. The likening of lips to rose-leaves is a very reasonable but commonplace simile, if nothing were adverted to but their colour; but, in order to make it not commonplace, the author has made it nonsense — lips must not only look but "move" like rose-leaves, and like rose-leaves "opening to the invisible airs." By this we presume is meant, (or the word "opening" deceives us,) not rose-leaves moved by the wind, but a rose-bud slowly expanding. Now, we are not aware that the motion of an expanding rose-bud is perceptible to the human eye, more than any other process of vegetation. Cain, however, in the passage above quoted, is describing what he sees. He sees the motion of her lips, and he is made to compare it to a motion which neither he nor any one else could see. We may next enquire what is the peculiar novelty and beauty of the epithet "invisible," as applied to "airs." In the following sentence we find two words which neutralize each other's meaning — "lightly," and "cluster." The word "cluster," implies thickness and heaviness, and hair which seems to fall lightly, cannot with propriety be said to cluster at all. Then we have a violet vein shedding a dim lustre on a white bosom. Now, the vein is darker than the bosom; and when a dark object is upon a light one, we conceive that the "lustre," whether "dim" or otherwise, must proceed from the latter.
A few words now on the versification of these poems, and more particularly of Cain, of which, in the prefatory dialogue, the author thus speaks:
C. Your verses are often rugged, and—
A. Ah! so were "glorious John's." From the age of fourteen we steep ourselves, as it were, in the mellifluousness of Pope; but seven or eight years afterwards, one sickens of honey, of the eternal "smooth-shaven green," and longs for and loves the rough energy, and rude but often grand harmony of glorious old Dryden, "The long resounding march, and energy divine," as it has been owned by Pope himself. If in imitating a little his ruggedness, I have now and then caught a touch of his vigour, I shall be well satisfied."
Is it then on the authority of Dryden that we are to accept such lines as the following?
Shall be levelled by them; why he is, and was—
In vain repinings, which is weakness, not strength—
Looking as enduring: I heard voices in—
Thou art mighty in punishment — oh! be mightier in—
Me whom till now thou hast ever turned to, in—
Dying before me daily, and I looking on—
And was happy because alone, and my heart opened—
Of my father and Eve, and perhaps hear their curses—
Who made ye, and none could look on ye and be—
Feeling and knowing themselves slaves to—
Of blindness withdrawn, and your eyes opened to—
The English heroic verse consists properly of ten, sometimes of eleven syllables; but it does not therefore follow that prose chopped into portions of ten or eleven syllables, should be entitled to be called verse — much less that portions of nine, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen syllables, should have any pretensions to such a name. We had understood that rhythm and accent are a little to be attended to, and at it is by no means easy to write harmonious blank verse. But, according to Mr. Reade's system, nothing can be easier. All that seems requisite is to dispose the words in lines, containing from nine to fourteen syllables, with only this restriction, that every line shall consist of entire words, and that they shall not be divided on the ultra-liberal plan exhibited in "The Anti-Jacobin"—
Thou wert the daughter of my tu-
Tor, law professor at the U-, &c.
There is often as much of affectation as of ignorance in this love of "ruggedness," this contempt of polish. Of all literary coxcombries it is one of the most disgusting. It is a tacit profession of being occupied only with the higher requisites of poetry, and of unwillingness to condescend to the cultivation of minor graces — it is one mode of pretending to have written with ease and rapidity — it is an assumption of such superior merit, as must make minor blemishes of no importance, — mere specks in the sun, dust in the balance, when weighed against the author's manifold perfections, and which readers ought to disregard. With this pitiful affectation we do not say that Mr. Reade is chargeable. The "ruggedness" of his lines may perhaps proceed from an inability to distinguish what is or is not harmonious in verse. If so, we are sorry for it; for he is deficient in one of those qualities, without which no man can aspire to the character of a poet.
We cannot close this article without adverting to Mr. Reade's allusions to two distinguished contemporaries. Is it wise, or modest, for a young and unknown poet, to usher in his first work with the following quotation, as an apology for writing?
When Southey's read, and Wordsworth understood,
I can't help putting in my claim for praise.
It is perhaps to be regretted, that Lord Byron should have made so flippant an attack. But that which in Lord Byron was only arrogant and discourteous, becomes the height of absurdity when proceeding from Mr. Reade. It is well known to our readers, that we are not to be classed among the enthusiastic admirers of the poetry either of Mr. Wordsworth or Mr. Southey; but we cannot on that account be insensible to Mr. Reade's presumption. Mr. Southey, whatever may be his defects of taste and judgment, occupies a very distinguished place among the poetry of his country, and has gained, both by the strength and variety of his talents, a celebrity to which we do not expect that Mr. Reade is ever likely to attain. But we shall see that Mr. Reade claims more than equality with Mr. Southey. In one of the notes in the volume containing "Cain the Wanderer," we find the following passage: — "How dared Southey, of all men, to set himself up as his [i.e. Shelley's] judge? Was he so superior to him in talent? I am of opinion," &c. And then he proceeds to deliver his judgment upon Shelley, claiming for his own superior talent the privilege which he denies to Southey. In another note, he speaks of "poor Milman, struggling for once to say something out of the common." It is unnecessary to comment on these passages; to quote them is to expose them.
In taking leave of Mr. Reade we shall bestow a word of advice, which we should not offer if we did not think that his works evinced a misdirection and abuse, rather than a deficiency of talent. We believe him capable of better things; but it is necessary that he should select subjects more suited to his powers, — that he should entertain a humbler opinion of his own abilities, — that he should abstain from exaggeration, — that he should cultivate a purer style, — should study to express more clearly his meaning, — and should become more grammatical in his construction, and less rugged in his metre.