In defending the principles of romantic poetry laid out by Joseph Warton in his Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope (1756), William Lisle Bowles began a pamphlet war with the younger generation of romantic poets and critics over the question of the relative part played by art and nature in verse. Spenser was not at the center of debate, though the issues were central to Spenserian poetics.
Robert Southey to William Lisle Bowles: "It is needless to add that I agree with you entirely upon the invariable principles of poetry: we learned them in the same school, and I was confirmed in them in my youth by seeing them exemplified in your writings" 1819; in Garland Greever, A Wiltshire Parson and his Friends (1926) 115-16.
One of the better rejoinders appeared in the European Magazine, connecting Bowles's position specifically to the Wartons and later romantic Spenserianism: "Though no school of poetry has as yet succeeded in putting down the rest, there is a mistaken opinion, which has, more or less, infected all the schools, or, at least, a portion of each, and this opinion is, I believe, peculiar to the present age, that there must be some certain style of poetry, some certain measure, some certain manner, some certain class of subjects and of images, superior to all others, and that, consequently, all others should give way to them. We all seem to forget, that neither style, measure, nor manner, constitutes a particle of the essence of poetry" "On the Spenserian School of Poetry" 82 (November 1822) 432-33.
Henry A. Beers: "Thomas Campbell, in his Specimens of the British Poets (1819), defended Pope both as a man and a poet, and maintained that 'exquisite descriptions of artificial objects are not less characteristic of genius than the description of simple physical appearances.' He instanced Milton's description of Satan's spear and shield, and gave an animated picture of the launching of a ship of the line as an example of the 'sublime objects of artificial life.' Bowles replied in a letter to Campbell on The Invariable Principles of Poetry. He claimed that it was the appearances of nature, the sea and the sky, that lent sublimity to the launch of the ship, and asked: 'If images derived from art are as beautiful and sublime as those derived from nature, why was it necessary to bring your ship off the stocks?' He appealed to his adversary whether the description of a game of ombre was as poetical as that of a walk in the forest, and whether 'the sylph of Pope, "trembling over the fumes of a chocolate pot," be an image as poetical as that of delicate and quaint Ariel, who sings "Where the bee sucks, there lurk (sic) I."' Campbell replied in the New Monthly Magazine, of which he was editor, and this drew out another rejoinder from Bowles. Meanwhile Byron had also attacked Bowles in two letters to Murray (1821), to which the indefatigable pamphleteer made elaborate replies. The elder Disraeli, Gifford, Octavius Gilchrist, and one Martin M'Dermot also took a hand in the fight — all against Bowles — and William Roscoe, the author of the Life of Lorenzo de Medici, attacked him in an edition of Pope he brought out in 1824. The rash detractor of the little Twitnam nightingale soon found himself engaged single-handed against a host; but he was equal to the occasion, in volubility if not in logic, and poured out a series of pamphlets, covering in all some thousand pages, and concluding with A Final Appeal to the Literary Public (1825), followed by 'more last words of Baxter,' in the shape of Lessons in Criticism to William Roscoe (1825)" Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century (1901) 64-65.
George Saintsbury: "Pope, among his other peculiarities, has had the fate of making foes of his editors, and this was the case with the Reverend William Lisle Bowles, who revived the fainting battle, not to any one's advantage or particular credit, and to his own dire tribulation. Bowles is one of those not uninteresting people, in all divisions of history, who, absolutely rather null, have not inconsiderable relative importance. The influence of his early sonnets on Coleridge, and through Coleridge on the whole Romantic revival in England, is well known, and, not really surprising. In the remainder of his long and on the whole blameless life, he committed a great deal of verse which, though not exactly bad, is utterly undistinguished and unimportant. His theory of poetry, however, though somewhat one-sided, was better than his practice: and it was rather as a result of that dangerous thing Reaction, and from a lack of alertness and catholicity, than from positive heresy, that he fell foul of Pope. In his edition he laid down, and in the controversy following he defended, certain 'invariable principles of Poetry,' of which the first and foremost was that images, thoughts, &c. derived from Nature and Passion, are always more sublime and pathetic than those drawn from Art and Manners. And it was chiefly on this ground that he, of course following his leader Warton, but using newer material and tactics, disabled, partially or wholly, the claims of Pope. Hereupon arose a hubbub. Campbell in the Specimens took a hand; Byron wrote a Letter to John Murray in defence of his favourite, and in ridicule of Bowles; auxiliaries and adversaries ran up on both sides. Whether Bowles was most happy or unhappy in the turmoil I am unable to say, but he was certainly put in a great state of agitation, and showered Pamphlets with elaborate titles, which one may duly find, with their occasions and rejoinders, in the library of the British Museum. At last dust settled on the conflict, which, however, is itself settled to the present day, and in fact never can be, because it depends on one of the root-differences of poetical taste. However, it probably helped the wiser sort to take the via media, even such a Romantic as Hazlitt vindicating Pope's possession of 'the poetical point of view,' and did, for the same sort, a service to the general history of criticism by emphasising the above-mentioned difference. Bowles himself, if he had been less fussy, less verbose, less given to 'duply and quadruply' on small controversial points, and more a man of the world and of humour, might not have made by any means a bad critic. As it was, he was right in the main" History of English Criticism (1911) 389-91.
Sir, — A short time since a friend of yours, and one of the most distinguished poets of the present day, informed me that there had appeared, in the Morning Chronicle, an extract from your Specimens of British Poets, entitled, 'CAMPBELL'S Answer to BOWLES.' I have since read, with much pleasure, the work from which the extract was taken; and I beg to return you my thanks, for the kind manner with which my name is introduced, though you profess to differ from me, and state at large the grounds of that difference, on a point of criticism. The criticism of mine, which you have discussed, is that which appears in the last volume of the last edition of Pope's Works, entitled, 'On the Poetical Character of Pope.'
As the opinion pronounced by the editor of the Morning Chronicle will probably be the opinion of all who read, without much reflection, not my criticism, but your representation of it, I am bound, in Justice to myself, to state the grounds of my proposition clearly; to meet the arguments you have brought against it, manfully but respectfully; and to make the public (at least that part of the public which may be interested in such a discussion) a judge between us!
I feel it the more incumbent on me to do this, knowing the deserved popularity of your name, and the impression which your representation of my arguments must make on the public, though I must confess, it does appear to me that you could not have read the criticism which you discuss.
I do not think that any thing, Sir, you have advanced, at all shakes the propositions I have laid down; and, moreover, I do not doubt I shall be able to prove that you have misconceived my meaning; ill-supported your own arguments; confounded what I had distinguished; and even given me grounds to think you had replied to propositions which you never read, or, at least, of which you could have read only the first sentence, omitting that which was integrally and essentially connected with it.
In an article in the Edinburgh Review, the same mis-statement was made, and the same course of argument pursued. I feel indeed, bound to thank Mr. JEFFREY, if he wrote the article, for the liberal tribute he paid to my poetry, at the expense of my canons of criticism. But in truth, from the coincidences here remarked I might be led to think Mr. CAMPBELL wrote the Review, were I not more disposed to think he drew his knowledge of my criticism on POPE, not from the criticism himself, but, at second-hand from the criticism on the criticism in that Review, inadvertently involving himself in all its misconceptions and misrepresentations.
For, I beg you to observe, Sir, that in my first proposition, I do not say that WORKS OF ART are in no instances poetical; but only that 'what is sublime or beautiful in works of nature is MORE SO!' The very expression 'more so' is a proof that poetry belongs, though not in the same degree, to both. I must also beg you to remark, that, having laid down this position, I observe, in the very next sentence, (lest it should be misunderstood as it now is, and was by a writer in the Edinburgh Review,) substantially as follows, — that the loftier passions of human nature are more poetical than artificial manners; the one being eternal, the other local and transitory. I think the mere stating of these circumstances will be sufficient to shew, that both the Edinburgh Review and yourself have completely misrepresented my meaning. With respect to the images FROM ART, which you have adduced as a triumphant answer to what I laid down, I shall generally observe, that your own illustrations are against you. The Edinburgh Review, in the same manner, had spoken of the Pyramids. Now the Pyramids of Egypt, the Chinese Wall, etc., had occurred to me, at the time of writing, as undoubtedly POETICAL in WORKS OF ART; but I supposed that any reflecting person would see that these were poetical, not essentially as works of art, but from associations both with the highest feelings of nature, and some of her sublimest external works. The generations swept away round the ancient base of the Pyramids, the ages that are past since their erection, the mysterious obscurity of their origin, and many other complex ideas, enter into the imagination at the thought of these wonderful structures, besides the association with boundless deserts; as the Wall of China is associated with unknown rocks, mountains, and rivers. Build a Pyramid of new brick, of the same dimensions as the pyramids of Egypt, in Lincoln's-Inn Fields, and then say how much of the poetical sublimity of the immense and immortal piles in the deserts of Egypt is derived, not from art, but from moral associations! Place your own image of the 'GIANT OF THE WESTERN STAR' upon such a pyramid, if it could be made as HIGH as the Andes, and say whether it would be considered as poetical as now it appears, 'looking from its throne of clouds o'er half the world.' I had often considered these and such instances generally and specifically; and I think, if you reflect a moment, you will agree with me, that though they are works of art, they are rendered POETICAL chiefly by moral associations and physical circumstances. But to come to your most interesting example. Let us examine the ship which you have described so beautifully. On what does the poetical beauty depend? not on art, but NATURE. Take away the waves, the winds, the sun, that, in association with the streamer and sails, make them look so beautiful! take all poetical association away, ONE will become a strip of blue bunting, and the other a piece of coarse canvas on three tall poles!!
You speak also of the poetical effect of the drum and fife! Are the drum and fife poetical, without other associations? In the quotation from Shakespeare which you adduce, the fife is 'ear piercing,' and the drum is 'spirit stirring;' and both are associated, by the consummate art of Shakespeare — with what? — with the 'PRIDE, POMP, and CIRCUMSTANCE of GLORIOUS WAR!' and passions and pictures are called up; those of fortitude, of terror, of pity, etc., etc.; arms glittering in the sun, and banners waving in the AIR. It is these pictures and passions from NATURE, and these alone, which make a drum or fife poetical; and let the same drum or fife be heard before a booth in a fair, or in a regiment with wooden guns, and this poetical effect will be lost. I therefore turn your own instances against you.
What I said respecting descriptive poetry, in my Essay on the Poetical Character of POPE, was not with a view of shewing that a poet should be a botanist, or even a Dutch painter; but that no one could be 'pre-eminent,' as a great (descriptive) poet, without this knowledge, which peculiarly distinguishes COWPER and THOMSON. The objects I had in view, when I used the expressions objected to, were Pope's Pastorals and Windsor Forest. I will appeal to your own quotation from the first of these poets. Why is COWPER so eminent as a descriptive poet? for I am now speaking of this part of his poetical character alone. Because he is the most accurate describer of the works of external nature, and for that reason is superior, as a descriptive poet, to POPE. Every tree, and every peculiarity of colour and shape, are so described, that the reader becomes a spectator, and is doubly interested with the truth of colouring, and the beauty of the scene, so vividly and so delightfully painted; and you yourself have observed the same in your criticism on this exquisite poet, in WORDS AS DECISIVE AS MY OWN.
Having thus merely stated my sentiments in general, as they stand in order and connection in the Essay on the Poetic Character of POPE, I shall now pursue your arguments more in detail.
You say, 'as the subject of inspired fiction, nature includes artificial forms and manners.' 'RICHARDSON is no less a painter of nature than HOMER!' I will not stoop to notice your vague expression of 'inspired fiction;' but will admit that RICHARDSON is not less a painter of nature than HOMER. For, indeed, RICHARDSON,
Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet,
But let us take Clarissa Harlowe, the most affecting of RICHARDSON'S 'inspired fictions!' Though Lovelace be a character in ARTIFICIAL LIFE, the interest we take in the history of Clarissa is derived from PASSIONS. Its great characteristic is PATHOS: and this I have distinguished as a far more essential property of poetry than flowers and leaves! The passions excited make RICHARDSON so far, and no farther, poetical. There is nothing poetical in the feathered hat or the sword-knot of Lovelace; nor in the gallant but artificial manners of this accomplished villain. In Sir Charles Grandison the character of Clementina is poetical, and for the same reasons; but there is nothing very poetical in Sir Charles himself, or 'the venerable Mrs. Shirley!'
I must here observe, that when I speak of passions as poetical, I speak of those which are most elevated or pathetic; for it is true passions are described in TERENCE as well as SOPHOCLES; but I confine my definition to what is heroic, sublime, pathelic, or beautiful, in human feelings, and this distinction is kept in view through the Essay on the Poetic Character of POPE. SHAKESPEARE displays the same wonderful powers in Falstaff as in Lear, but not the same poetical powers; and the provinces of comedy and tragedy will be always separate; the one relating to the passions, the other combined with the passing fashions, and incidental variations of the 'Cynthia of the minute.'
To proceed, you say, 'HOMER himself is a minute describer of the works of art!' But are his descriptions of works of art more poetical than his descriptions of the great feelings of nature? Nay, the whole of the Odyssey derives its peculiar charm from the scenes of NATURE; as the Iliad does from its loftier passions. But do you really think that the catalogue of the Grecian ships is as poetical as the animated horses of Achilles; and do you think HOMER would have been so great a poet, if he had been only a minute describer of works of art? Jejune as the catalogue of the leaders and ships is, how much more interesting and poetical is it rendered by the brief interpositions of varied and natural landscape; and it is this very circumstance that gives the dry account any interest at all. Besides, was the age of HOMER an aera of refinement or artificial life? by whom not even such a poetical work of art as a bridge is mentioned!
But RICHARDSON and HOMER are not sufficient to overwhelm me and my hypothesis; and it is remarked, as if the argument were at once decisive, that MILTON is full of imagery derived from art; 'Satan's spear,' for example, is compared to the 'MAST OF SOME GREAT AMMIRAL!' Supposing it is, do you really think that such a comparison makes the description of Satan's spear a whit more poetical? I think much less so. But MILTON was not so unpoetical as you imagine, though I think his simile does not greatly add to our poetical ideas of Satan's spear! The 'mast of the great admiral' might have been left out; but remark, in this image MILTON DOES NOT compare Satan's spear 'with the mast of some great admiral,' as you assert. The passage is,
His spear, to equal which the TALLEST PINE
HEWN ON NORWEGIAN HILLS TO BE the mast
Of some great ammiral, were but a wand!!
You leave out the chief, I might say the only, circumstance which reconciles the 'mast' to us; and having detruncated MILTON'S image, triumphantly say, 'MILTON is full of imagery derived from art!!' You then advance, 'dextraque sinistraque,' and say, not only Satan's spear is compared to an 'admiral's mast,' but 'his shield to the moon seen through a telescope!'
My dear Sir, consider a little. You forget the passage, or have purposely left out more than half of its essential poetical beauty. What reason have I to complain, when you use MILTON thus? I beseech you recollect MILTON'S image.
His pond'rous shield
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb
Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
AT EVENING, FROM THE TOP OF FESOLE,
Or in VALDARNO, to DESCRY NEW LANDS,
RIVERS, or MOUNTAINS, IN HER SPOTTY GLOBE.
Who does not perceive the art of the poet in introducing, besides the telescope, as if conscious how unpoetical it was in itself, all the circumstances from NATURE, external nature, — the evening — the top of Fesole — the scenes of Valdarno — and the LANDS, MOUNTAINS, and RIVERS, in the moon's orb? It is these which make the passage poetical, and not the telescope!!
Whilst I am on this subject, let me point out a grand and sublime passage of this great poet, in which images from art are most successfully introduced, and made most highly poetical. The passage I allude to is in the Paradise Regained — the picture of Imperial Rome.
On each side an Imperial city stood,
With TOW'RS and TEMPLES proudly elevate
On seven small hills, with PALACES adorn'd,
PORCHES, and THEATRES, BATHS, AQUEDUCTS,
STATUES, and TROPHIES, and TRIUMPHAL ARCS,
GARDENS, and GROVES, presented to his eyes,
Above the height of mountains interpos'd, etc.
The CITY which thou see'st, no other deem
Than GREAT and GLORIOUS Rome, QUEEN of the EARTH,
So far renowned, and with the spoils enrich'd
Of nations; there the CAPITOL thou see'st,
Above the rest, lifting his stately head
On the Tarpeian rock, her citadel
Impregnable, and there Mount Palatine
The Imperial palace, compass huge, and high,
The structure, skill of noblest architects,
With GILDED BATTLEMENTS, CONSPICUOUS far,
TURRETS, and TERRACES, and GLITTERING SPIRES, etc.
Thence to the gates cast round shine eye, and see
What conflux issuing forth, or ent'ring in,
PRAETORS, PROCONSULS to their provinces
Hasting, or on return, in robes of state,
LICTORS, and RODS, the ensigns of their power,
Legions, and cohorts, Turms of horse and wings,
Or embassies from regions far remote,
In various habits on the Appian road,
Or on th' Emilian, etc.
This truly grand and most poetical picture I here gratuitously set before you, convinced as you must now, I think, be, of the weakness of your telescope, and admiral's mast! And with the impression left on the imagination by this lofty and beautiful assemblage, drawn chiefly from art, but mixed up in a grand and impressive picture, by MILTON'S consummate powers of painting, I will still contend, that 'images drawn from what is BEAUTIFUL and SUBLIME in NATURE, are more poetical than images drawn from art.'
I cannot dismiss this part of the subject, and the 'launching of the ship,' which I have already touched on, without quoting your own animated description.
'Those who have ever witnessed the spectacle of the launching of a ship of the line, will, perhaps, forgive me for adding this to the examples of the sublime objects of artificial life. Of that spectacle I can never forget the impression.
'When the vast bulwark sprung from her cradle, the CALM WATER on which she swung MAJESTICALLY round, gave the IMAGINATION a contrast of the STORMY ELEMENT, on which she was soon to ride. All the days of battle, and nights of danger, she had to encounter; all the ENDS of the EARTH which she had to visit; and all that she had to do and suffer for her country, rose in awful presentiment before the mind; and when the heart gave her a benediction, it was like one pronounced on a living being!!' Now let me ask you, when you so beautifully described this ship why was it necessary to describe its LAUNCHING at all? If images derived from art are as beautiful and sublime as those derived from nature, why was it necessary to bring your ship off the stocks! It was complete, as far as art was concerned, before; it had the same sails, the same streamers, and the same tackle. But surely your own illustration is decidedly in my favour, when it appears, from this animated description, to make the object of art so poetically interesting, you are obliged to have recourse to NATURE!
This circumstance confirms my doubt, whether you ever really read my estimate of POPE'S Poetical Character. Even if I had been less explicit, could you suppose that, when I used the expression of general nature, I meant to confine the idea that expression conveyed, to external nature alone?
You observe, in page 264 of your first volume of Specimens of British Poets, that 'Nature is the poet's goddess; but by nature no one rightly understands her mere inanimate face, however charming it may be; or the simple landscape painting of trees, clouds, precipices, and flowers. Why then try POPE, or any other poet EXCLUSIVELY BY HIS POWERS OF DESCRIBING inanimate phaenomena? Nature, in the wide and proper sense of the word, means life in all its circumstances — nature MORAL as well as external.' — Campbell's Specimens.
Have I ever tried POPE by the exclusive power of painting inanimate phaenomena? Have I ever denied that Nature, in the proper sense of the word, means Nature moral as well as external! Have I not, in the very first sentences of the observations on POPE'S Poetical Character, said nearly the same thing? Could this utterly escape your notice, if you had (I will not say read the criticism,) but only looked at the two first sentences?
To set before you, in one view, your palpable perversions of my positions, I will briefly state the course of my argument, and your representation of it. The plain course of my argument was simply this: — 1st. Works of Nature, speaking of those more beautiful and sublime, are more sublime and beautiful than works of Art; therefore more poetical. — 2d. The passions of the human heart, which are the same in all ages, and which are the causes of the sublime and pathetic in sentiment, are more poetical than artificial manners. — 3d. The great poet of human passions is the most consummate master of his art; and the heroic, the lofty, and the pathetic, as belonging to this class, are distinguished. — 4th. If these premises be true, the descriptive poet, who paints from an intimate knowledge of external nature, is more poetical, supposing the fidelity and execution equal, not than the painter of human passions, but the painter of external circumstances in artificial life; as COWPER paints a morning walk, and POPE a game of cards!
This is the ground of my argument; and your representation, leaving out the most essential part, is this: 'He alone is a poet who paints from works of external nature; and his knowledge of external nature must be as minute as that of a botanist and Dutch painter!' I appeal to your book; and if this were not the mutilated representation of my argument, you would never have thought it necessary to say that SOPHOCLES was a GREAT POET, notwithstanding there is no minute painting of 'leaves,' etc., in Philoctetes! I have here given a short analysis of my argument, and your mutilation of it; on which mutilation alone you build your answer. For, indeed, you have totally left out the middle of my argument, and ludicrously joined the heads and the legs, like the PICTURE of NOBODY in the London shops.
If this be so I ask you whether you do not think I have some reason to make this remonstrance? You leave out the most material part of my proposition; and, taking a sentence relating to another point in another place, you separate it from its direct application, and misapply it to that with which it had no relation; omitting what was connected and even consecutive, and connecting what was neither the one nor the other.
The minute knowledge of external nature, which I laid down as one essential of a great descriptive poet, you apply to tragedians, in whose more elevated works (the subjects of which are the loftier passions of general nature) descriptions of external nature ought least of all to have place. But perhaps I ought to thank you for thus bringing me back to the delightful remembrance of the most interesting studies of my youth, — the tragedies of SOPHOCLES, and particularly the Sperchian fountains, the Lemnian rock, and the solitary cave of Philoctetes. Nor can I forget, that one of the companions of my Youthful studies [Thomas Russell], now in the dust, made this melancholy abode the subject of one of the most beautiful, and affecting, and picturesque sonnets in the English language: the insertion of which in your next edition, would be, I am persuaded, far more acceptable than many specimens you have admitted.
To return to SOPHOCLES. There is no minute description of leaves and flowers; but you have forgotten that the affecting story of the desolate Philoctetes displays not only the higher passions, but exhibits the interesting display of many of Nature's external beauties, of her most romantic scenery, of her most secluded solitudes. It is many years since I read the play; but recollecting its wild poetic scenery, and impassioned Language, I repeated, with a sigh, [Greek passage].
It is the rocks, the caves, the wild and solitary scenery, the desert island, and the surrounding seas, all images of nature, that, mixed with the language of human passions derived from the same general nature, give this ancient and unique drama its peculiar charm, reminding us of the romantic imagery in the Tempest and Midsummer Night's Dream, so beautifully interwoven by SHAKESPEARE in those interesting dramas.
The miserable abode of the lonely inhabitant of Lemnos is marked by one image drawn from art, which is so minute, and sets so strongly before us the wants and resources of the desolate exile that none of the minute circumstances which render so natural the narrative of Robinson Crusoe, can be imagined more affecting. I allude to the [Greek passage] in the cave of Philoctetes. There is nothing poetical in an ill-carved cup; but in this place it is rendered poetical, and most strikingly affecting, by the associated circumstances.
In the quotation from SHAKESPEARE, where you triumphantly appeal to the 'towers, and solemn temples, and gorgeous palaces,' recollect, Sir, the tower is 'cloud-capt;' the temple is associated with the 'solemnity' of religious awe; and 'palaces' with the splendour of earthly magnificence: and all these images are brought into one grand and awful picture, to shew the mighty devastation of final ruin; and are associated with that leading idea of the destruction of the globe itself, which will leave not a WRECK behind! Thus the 'cloud-capt towers' become highly poetical; nor can I leave this point without speaking a word of the particular object of the tower. POPE himself has thought its image so pleasing, that, in the catalogue of ships from HOMER, he sets before us the prospect of English spires, not Grecian. If the 'cloud capt tower' itself be a striking, and often a beautiful, object; how much more poetical when, grey with years, or illumined by the setting sun, it carries the thought to that worship with which it is connected, the sabbaths of our forefathers; or harmonizes with the soft, sinking landscape of evening, and the ideas of another world!
If ever I should have the pleasure of seeing you in this county in which I should sincerely rejoice, not far from my own house I could shew you a tower which is 'cloud-capt,' but not poetical; though it is of the same size with other towers, and adorned with pinnacles. It is what is called a sham tower, built in all respects like other towers as to one side, but it is only a wall built in this shape, and added to a cottage for the sake of a view, from the poetical and picturesque terrace of an ancient Abbey. To take you to scenes with which you are better acquainted. I would ask you what makes the venerable towers of Westminster Abbey, on the side of the Thames, more poetical, as objects, than the tower for the manufactory of patent shot, surrounded by the same scenery, and towering amidst the smoke of the city?
But, enough of this! I have read your observations with greater attention than you could have read mine; and having so read them, I must confess I do not find one point established against those positions which I had distinctly laid down, unless your observations may be called an answer, where, in refutation of such plain positions, you repeat yourself.
There is another circumstance, which almost persuades me you never read my criticism on POPE'S Poetic Character. You say, 'He glows with passion in the Epistle of Eloisa; and displays a lofty feeling, much above that of the satirist and man of the world, in his prologue to Cato, and his Epistle to Lord OXFORD.' — Campbell.
This may be called an 'answer!' How complete an answer it is, will be shewn by the following few lines of my criticism: 'We regret that we have little more truly pathetic from his pen than the Epistle of Eloisa; and the Elegy to the unfortunate Lady; yet let me not forget one of the sweetest and most melodious of his pathetic effusions, the Address to Lord OXFORD,
Such were the notes my once-lov'd Poet sung.
I must again entreat pardon for shewing what I did say of a poem founded on manners, and what I did not say of the Rape of the Lock. 'In this composition POPE stands alone, unrivalled, and possibly never to be rivalled. All his successful labour of correct and musical versification, all his talents of accurate description, though in an inferior province of poetry, are here consummately displayed; and as far as artificial life, that is, "manners," not PASSIONS, are capable of being rendered poetical, they are here rendered so by the fancy, the propriety, the elegance, and the poetic beauty of the machinery.'
Now I would put to you a few plain questions; and I would beseech you not to ask whether I mean this or that, for I think you must now understand what I do mean. I would beseech you also not to write beside the question, but answer simply and plainly, whether you think that the sylph of POPE, 'trembling over the fumes of a chocolate-pot,' be an image as poetical as that of delicate and quaint Ariel, who sings, 'Where the bee sucks, there lurk I?' Or the elves of SHAKESPEARE:
Spirits of another sort,
That with the morning light make sport.
Whether you think the description of a game of cards be as poetical, supposing the execution in the artists equal, as a description of a WALK in a FOREST? Whether an age of refinement be as conducive to pictures of poetry, as a period less refined? Whether passions, affections, etc., of the human heart be not a higher source of what is pathetic or sublime in poetry, than habits or manners, that apply only to artificial life? If you agree with me, I am satisfied; if not, we differ, and always shall, on the principles of poetical criticism.
Your last observation is this: 'I know not how to designate the possessor of such gifts, but by the name of genuine poet.' Nor do I, nor did I ever; and I will venture to assert, that if you examine well what I have here said on POPE'S several writings, you will not think I ever shewed reluctance to attribute to him that high name.
Again. You say, 'POPE'S discrimination lies in the lights and shades of "human" manners, which are at least as interesting as those of rocks and leaves!' Does it require more than the commonest understanding to perceive the fallacy of this language?
I fear it would be thought impertinent to ask you at what University you acquired your logic; but I guess your knowledge of the art was not acquired at Oxford. Your logic is this: 'Human manners are the province of poets; therefore, the general and loftier passions are not more poetical than manners of artificial life.' Shall I hint further, that the expression 'human manners' is vague and inapplicable? 'Human' manners may designate equally the red Indian, in the forests of the Mississippi; the plumed soldier, and the gray-haired minstrel of chivalry; or Beau Nash, in a Bath ball-room. Every comedy, every farce, has human manners; but my proposition was confined to manners of a refined age, which I called artificial, and which you have artificially slurred over with irrelevant expressions, that prove nothing. Artificial manners are human, but 'human manners' ARE NOT SO ADAPTED TO POETRY OF THE HIGHEST KIND AS HUMAN PASSIONS.
I beg further to say, that there is not one passage, concerning the poetical beauties of which you have so justly spoken, which I have not expressly pointed out myself, as the reader may find in turning to the passages; particularly let him remember what I have said respecting the PATHOS, and the PICTURES, and the SOLEMN and SWEET HARMONIES, in the Epistle of Eloisa. And can I help pointing out, not with triumph, but with regret, that you only agree with me in some points, and that where we differ, your criticism conflictingly labours against your own argument: for when, nearly in the last sentence, you say, 'he, POPE, glows with passion in the Eloisa, and displays a LOFTY feeling, much ABOVE that of the SATIRIST and man of the world, in his Prologue to Cato, and his Epistle to Lord OXFORD;' what is that but to say, that 'glowing passions and lofty feelings are much ABOVE those which distinguish the SATIRIST and man of the world!!' Q.E.D.
[(1822) Prothero, Letters of Byron (1898-1904) 4:526-36]