1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bernard Barton

Anonymous, "On the Genius of Bernard Barton" The Minerva [New York] NS 3 (13 August 1825) 300-01.



BERNARD BARTON, amidst a perhaps uncongenial atmosphere dimmed with sentimental nebulae, occasionally, it may be frequently, exhibits bright scintillations of genius. We are afraid, however, that his excellent taste is on the point of being perverted; that the whining and affectedly domestic muse of the school of poetry has by its semblance of innocence, allured him into its somniferous shades. Viewing this poet as a hopeful candidate for fame, and as endowed with powers to undertake the weary pilgrimage to its temple, we are rather eager to obtain the humble merit of cheering him on his way; but he is doubtless aware of the toilsome length of the journey, that it is like the road leading to the paradise of the Indian warriors, beset with difficulties which can only be surmounted by courage the most undaunted, and perseverance the most indefatigable. To have deserved the meed of glory is not even sufficient. The poet must amuse the dull, and interest the careless, by reiterated claims; and after all, the laurel may spring up only from the sod that wraps his clay, and grow entwined with the cypress that overshadows his tomb. Yet mankind can hardly be blamed for this seeming act of injustice. There are so many pretenders to poetic inspiration, so many stringers together of rhyme, which is the vulgar attribute of poetry, so many aspirants who present themselves at the gates of immortality, that it is natural to dread being detained by the pretensions of a new candidate, and every one who announces himself for the first time as a messenger from Parnassus may expect that the public will take but a hasty perusal of his credentials. We were well aware, however, that to the absence of attention, to the defect of mental perception in the mass of readers, or to the want of a heart whose feelings are interested in impartially pointing out the beauteous proportions of a literary fabric, may be attributed much of the neglect which too often attends the exertions of modest unpretending genius. But we again repeat that all this is more to be lamented than blamed. Most men are so much involved in the vortex of pains, pleasures, and passions, that they must leave to a few the task of discovering what is interesting and beautiful; however pleased they may be. to sit down to the banquet, they have not leisure to cater for the provisions; they maybe aware of the value of the ore, but have not time to probe every part of the soil in quest of it.

Bernard Barton has, however, entered at least on the threshold of public favour; for we believe that a real third edition of his first volume is now published; and if a muse, whose song is inspired by the purest moral feeling, who has modestly exerted all its powers, such as they are, to soothe the angry passions of mankind and to forward the reign of meekness, innocence, and brotherly love — if such a muse may hope from the better feelings of our nature for a kindly reception, that of Bernard Barton may go on rejoicing in its course. If in the cause of virtue he has not been able to come forward with the rich, splendid, and often ostentatious contributions of some who are haughty in their potency, yet, like the mite of the humble widow, what he has given is blessed by its intention; and secure of the approbation of him who can best appreciate its value, and whose rewards last to eternity, he has no reason to envy the loud resounding applause elicited by strong excitement, or the notoriety sought for in the path of reprehensible novelty.

While we express ourselves thus far, as to the sacred character and consecrated nature of the motives of Bernard Barton, we are almost led to believe, in viewing the discrepancy of many parts of his poetry, that the unimaginative education bestowed upon the youth of the respectable sect to which he belongs, may have had a powerful influence in freezing the naturally warm conceptions of a mind ardently enthusiastic, and finely creative of poetical imagery. Such a mind, surrounded by circumstances and amid society whose ideas are generally connected with homely truths and palpable realities, might feel both the principles and peculiarities of its associates operate powerfully as a restraint to the excursions of fancy. We do not, by these observations, mean to taint our pages with the least illiberality towards this sect, for though we are not aware that the distinctive trifles in their manners, and their notoriously commercial spirit, are either the best means of cultivating, or the best mode of demonstrating a mild disposition, yet we take a pleasure in admitting that no sect of christians have better imitated the active benevolence of the founder of their religion, and none have equalled them in the practice of that meekness which he every where recommended should be the distinguishing characteristic of his followers.

It is unfortunately where Mr. Barton becomes argumentative that he ceases to be poetical; forgetting, that when the muse assumes a didactical appearance, it is then she has most occasion to convey her reasoning with sounds of the sweetest melody, and insinuate her principles adorned with the loveliest flowers of fancy. To charm and to warm is the business of the poet, to discover and to convince is that of the philosopher. We are entirely of the opinion of an ingenious writer, who says that what distinguishes pure poetry from other writing, is its aptitude not to sway the judgment by reasoning, but to please the fancy and move the passions by a lively imitation of nature.