1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

G. C. H., "Parallel between Scott and Campbell" Port Folio [Philadelphia] S3 4 (November 1814) 504-06.



The world has seldom been distinguished by a greater lustre of poetical merit, than at the present period; and the age in which we live, will form a splendid era in the history of that divine art. The spirit of ancient elegance seems to have revived, and the works of Scott and Campbell alone, are superb monuments of the taste of the times. Upon the question of merit between these two great masters of song, the literary world are divided: "adhuc sub judice lis est." — Comparisons are not only necessary but useful: They effect in literature, what collisions in politics do in government, and furnish, indeed, the only true criteria of excellence.

The minds of both Scott and Campbell, were fashioned by nature, for the exertion of no ordinary powers. Gifted with that lofty enthusiasm of feeling, which designates and defines the poet, education has completed in their manhood, what the flattering dreams of their infancy had promised. — Both hold an important place, in the admiration of the public: but while a splendid fortune has followed the exertions of the one, a comparative neglect, has shaded the talents of the other. Campbell however is emerging to a brighter sky: and Scott will find, that present popularity is not always a test of superior merit.

Le vrai merite ne depend point
De tems, ni de la mode. — Fr. Peo.

There is a higher tribunal, before which the pretensions of all writers must appear, the tribunal of a distant posterity; and to this, through the vista of time, Campbell may look with a firm and steady confidence.

The style of Campbell is always polished, elegant, and relined: that of Scott sometimes harsh, colloquial, and crude. The march of the former is ever equal, portly, and dignified: that of the latter frequently irregular, affected, and unchaste. — Scott has more boldness of imagination, and greater grandeur of conception: Campbell more tenderness of feeling, and greater beauty of execution. — The one like a foaming torrent dashing in thunder down the precipice, raises emotions of wonder and astonishment: the other, like a placid stream, winding its silver waves through a parterre of flowers, excites the most delicate sensations of delight. The genius of Scott, like the flash of the lightning, throws an imposing grandeur, and not unfrequently a terrific sublimity, over the images of his mind: that of Campbell like the warm tints of the sun-beam, beautifies and enlightens all that it touches. In vain would we search the pages of Campbell for a character so bold, animated, and original, as that of Roderick Dhu: but Scott has never pencilled to the "mind's eye" a being so pure, elevated, and chaste, as the beautiful and impassioned Gertrude. — We cite these two particular instances of execution, because we have ever regarded them as the chef, d'oeuvres of the bards.

It has been said that Campbell is deficient in fire and sublimity of sentiment; and while he has been called by some, the poet of the lady's bower, Scott has been rewarded by his admirers with the proud title of the bard of heroism and of arms — we aver that the assertion stands contradicted. Campbell's disposition may lead him to the cultivation of a different order of poetry, but he is not therefore incapable of adorning particular subjects with all the majesty of the Epic Muse. — Scott never sketched a scene superior in grand and terrific imagery to that of Hoenlinden, and he has written much that is inferior to the popular and patriotic song Ye Mariners of England.

Scott has too much common-place sentiment, conveyed oftentimes in very inelegant numbers: Campbell has the most delicate and refined sensibility, always breathed in the sweetest harmony of sounds — I have read Scott with great emotion, but I have bitterly wept over the tenderness of some scenes in Campbell. There is soft shade of melancholy beauty, that mingles with the steady lustre of Campbell, for which the muse of Scott can furnish no comparisons. The one has written pathetically, but there is something wanting to complete the effect: we see through the deception of his art: the pathos of the other is the warm current of nature itself, the only unadulterated source of sentiment and passion.

Scott writes with greater facility, "currente calamo:" Campbell with purer taste. Every line of the latter bears evidence of great critical examination, "Limae labor ac mora" — and the reason of the difference is plain — Scott writes for present pay and present popularity — Campbell for the admiration as well of the present as of future ages: The thoughts of the one pass with the rapidity of light, through his mind — those of the other, if they move with less celerity, are more graceful, dignified, and refined. The track of Scott, is bounded by the limit of his age: it is splendid as a meteor's course, but will fade in the gloom of time. — The path of Campbell leads to the shores of immortality: the light that illumines it will brighten in the revolution of years, till the full splendor of eternal fame shall burst around the memory of the bard.

Semper honor, nomenque tuum
Laudesque manebunt. — VIRG.

G. C. H.
Charleston, S. C.