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forward as examples, is not with most readers the safest or best method of insuring for the poems themselves a genial and sympathetic perusal. We come to a poet to be moved or delighted with his strains, and we do not want to be told by him that we must admire his poems, because they are written according to certain true and ancient laws, which it seems have been forgotten by most great modern writers. These very writers, nevertheless, ignorant readers have persisted in admiring for those same qualities which a truer view of the principles of poetry would, we are assured, have shewn to be mere blemishes and mistakes.

Of course, if a poet really happens to be a great critic, and to hit upon a true theory of poetry, there can be no reason why he should not communicate it. But the chances are greatly against his doing so, and we cannot say that we think Mr. Arnold has been lucky enough to form any exception to the ordinary rule. It is not easy, as every one will admit, to lay down with precision the objects, the limits, the elements, or the laws of a thing so wide, so various, so profound as poetry. The attempt to do so has, in all ages, led to profitless discussions; such as, whether satire is poetry, whether this or that writer is a poet; which have ended in nothing but occasionally narrowing the sphere of natural and legitimate admiration and delight, by the imposition of unnatural and arbitrary rules. We are not about to follow examples which we condemn, and to add another instance of failure in the attempt to describe the indefinite, and to place bounds upon the illimitable. From the sublime strains of Hebrew prophets down to the latest and most artificial rhymers of these last ages, there is, amidst the infinite variety of gifts, and diversity of powers, something in common which separates the poet from the mass of his fellow-men, and enables him to impart delight to their minds and gratification to their taste. A great poet, like a great orator or a great philosopher, will undoubtedly do much more than this; a poet, however, differs from them not in the thoughts which he creates, but in the dress where with he clothes them. In their appeal to the sense of harmony and beauty which all men possess, in the imaginative and musical vehicle which they employ, Homer and Horace, Anacreon and Virgil, Shakspere and Burns, may be classed together. A theory which rejects Dryden and Pope, nay even the still more technical writers of French literature, such, for instance, as Racine, from the rank of poets, is as unsatisfactory, and as far from meeting all the facts of the case, as one which would throw doubts on Wordsworth, or question the claims of Shelley or of Keats. It is simply idle to say that poetry is this or that, when it really pervades the universe; or to

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lay down that this or that is its peculiar province, when there is scarcely a subject or an object which it cannot make its own. It is, as it were, the medium through which the poet sees, and by which he speaks, which colours everything he beholds, and robes in splendour or in beauty every creation of his mind.

We do not pretend to say that this is definite or technical, and we should very much doubt the truth of any statement of the nature and objects of poetry which pretended to be either. But beyond most such statements which we have seen, that of Mr. Arnold appears to be altogether inadequate, and to result in conclusions which the common feeling of mankind will agree to reject with something akin to indignation.

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'What,' says Mr. Arnold, are the eternal objects of poetry among all nations and at all times? They are actions,-human actions, possessing an inherent interest in themselves, and which are to be communicated in an interesting manner by the art of the poet. Vainly will the latter imagine that he has everything in his own power; that he can make an intrin'sically inferior action equally delightful with a more excellent one by his treatment of it: he may, indeed, compel us to admire his skill, but his work will possess within itself an 'incurable defect.' He then proceeds to argue that time is unessential, and that a great action of a thousand years ago is more interesting and fitter for poetry than a small one of yesterday. From this he arrives, by a curious sort of logic, at the conclusion that ancient subjects are in themselves fitter for poetical handling; and that an action of the present day,' to use his words, is too near us, too much mixed up with what is acci' dental and passing, to form a sufficiently grand, detached, and self-subsistent object for a tragic poem.' Amongst ancient subjects he classes, as we understand him, such essentially different ones as Macbeth and Edipus; and by the selection of such examples altogether baffles our best endeavours to comprehend the meaning of his rule. Ancient subjects, however, whatever those may be, are to be preferred, and, as we gather, almost exclusively preferred, to those of modern times. It follows from this, that as human action is the only object of poetry, human action, to admit of proper treatment, should be concerned with grand characters, and far removed from us in point of time; and as the classical writers of Greece and Rome selected antique subjects, and treated them in the grand style, a modern poet should go to them as models, and study them as the true originals of art, whose perfections it is hopeless to surpass, and difficult to rival. No modern writer, however great, no modern subject, however good, is to compare, in Mr. Arnold's view of the poetical art, with Sophocles and Homer, with Dido and Achilles.

Such is the theory, which we have endeavoured fairly to represent, although it suffers much by not being given to the reader in the remarkably choice and vigorous prose of Mr. Arnold himself; nor is there anything in what we may call the positive half of it to which we desire to object. So far forth as Mr. Arnold recommends the study of classical writers, and celebrates the intellectual and moral benefits derivable therefrom; so far as he does justice to their calmness and simplicity, their dignity and pathos, their refined and severe sense of art, we go along with him entirely. We do not doubt the truth of what he says, that' commerce with the ancients appears to produce, in those who constantly practise it, a steadying and composing effect upon their judgment, not of literary works only, but of men and events in general. They are like 'persons who have had a very weighty and impressive expe'rience: they are more truly than others under the empire of facts, and more independent of the language current among those with whom they live.' We subscribe to all this; but we fail to apprehend how it leads to the conclusion that an Englishman should write of Medea or of Empedocles in preference to Mary Queen of Scots or Cromwell; that an English poet's allusions should be to classical events, or to the heroes of the ancient world, his style be formed upon that of writers in a foreign language, and his thoughts moulded upon those of ' believers in a heathen creed.

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We will not waste our space, nor our readers' time, with discussing at length the strictures which Mr. Arnold passes upon all modern writers, including Shakspere. However necessary

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to his theory, they are so little creditable to his taste, that we cannot help feeling they would hardly have been ventured upon except under the stimulus of thoroughly defending a thesis, which, from the time of Aristotle, has made men intellectually unscrupulous. Even in this portion of his Preface, however, there is much which is sensible and true. He contrasts the simplicity of classical writers with the fussiness of many moderns, who loudly talk of their mission, and of interpreting the age, and of the coming poet.' The comparison is fair enough, and doubtless greatly to the disadvantage of our contemporaries. But when Mr. Arnold comes to use it as an argument in support of his theory, the matter changes. Does he suppose that there was no cant in the days of Plato, or that because men now write nonsense in multitudes, therefore Burke and Wordsworth are not fit to rank with the greatest authors of any age or any country? He compares the small men of the present day with the great men of antiquity; and though the victory is easy, the terms of the conflict are manifestly unjust. In our day, as in theirs, the calling of a great poet is not to interpret

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an age, but to affect a people; and he would be a bold man who should deny to the great singers of our time an influence as wide and deep as ever was exerted at any period of the world's history by the great masters of their art. He would be a yet bolder, in our judgment, who would place such poems as Wordsworth's Triad,' or his famous 'Ode,' such compositions as The Cenci,' or 'King Lear,' in point of mere artistic skill, at all below any single composition of the Greek or Roman minds. But the whole breaks down together as a theory of poetry. It is not by straining after one model or another, nor yet by definite and conscious effort, that great poems are produced. Homer, it has been finely said

'Beheld the Iliad and the Odyssee

Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea;'

and there is so much of gift and inspiration in every great poet, that his best works are written, his greatest efforts achieved, in a simple, half-unconscious fashion, by means often the most homely and ordinary, by appeals to those emotions of the heart which are, indeed, all-powerful, but all-pervading, which all men share in common, and in which one age does not differ from another. Subjects thoroughly known, illustrations universally understood, are perhaps essential to the construction of the greatest poems, certainly to the construction of those which acquire the most enduring fame. Disguised, therefore, in a robe of lofty pretensions and severe requirements, it is, in reality, a low and narrow view of poetic art that would make it serve for the delight and instruction of the rich and highly educated alone, and which would exclude altogether the generality of women from its highest enjoyments. Yet this must be the inevitable result of a theory which proposes to a poet as his best subject a story of classical times, to be treated in a classical style, and adorned with classical illustrations. If the best poetry is not to be understood without a profound acquaintance with, and relish for, the classics, the best poetry is to be written for a hundred or two of the male sex only out of the whole population of a great country. And if it be true that grandiose human action is the proper object of poetry, what becomes of Milton, and Spenser, and the Georgics, and Horace, and Lucretius, and Catullus, and Simonides, and Cowper, and Wordsworth, and a list of writers as long as Mr. Arnold's Preface, whom no one ever yet thought of banishing from the catalogue of great poets, and whose works all mankind have agreed to consider as poetry of the highest order?

Mr. Arnold's practice has not at all tended to reconcile us to his theory. Those are by far his best poems in which he has trusted most exclusively to himself, and those portions of his poems the most striking in which he has been contented to be

original and modern. For this reason we cannot, on the whole, admire the long blank-verse poem of Sohrab and Rustum, a composition evidently put together upon the theory which we have just been discussing. The story of the Persian Hercules slaying his son in single combat, and the discovery of their relationship after the fatal blow has been given, is, indeed, a very solemn and pathetic subject, and much of Mr. Arnold's poem is written in a strain of deep yet subdued feeling worthy of the occasion. The imitation of Homer and Milton is, however, too palpable throughout; the numerous similes elaborately worked out into distinct pictures, and the minute descriptions, remind us of the former; the language is obviously and intentionally imitated from the latter, as we showed some pages back. If from the style we go to the treatment, we are under some embarrassment from not being sure how much of it is Mr. Arnold's own. The subject itself, it is well known, is from Firdousi. But in the first volume of the Causeries du Lundi by Sainte Beuve, there is a review of M. Mohl's translation of Firdousi; and some of the passages given by Sainte Beuve from M. Mohl's version, are simply translated, and very closely translated, by Mr. Arnold. We give one of them, that our readers may judge for themselves::

'O thou young man, the air of heaven is soft,

And warm, and pleasant; but the grave is cold.
Heaven's air is better than the cold dead grave.
Behold me! I am vast, and clad in iron,
And tried; and I have stood on many a field
Of blood, and I have fought with many a foe:
Never was that field lost, or that foe saved.
O Sohrab, wherefore wilt thou rush on death?
Be govern'd: quit the Tartar host, and come
To Iran, and be as my son to me,

And fight beneath my banner till I die.
There are no youths in Iran brave as thou.'

Sohrab and Rustum, p. 21.

The following is from M. Mohl's version of Firdousi :—

"O jeune homme, si tendre!" lui dit-il, "la terre est sèche et froide, l'air est doux et chaud. Je suis vieux; j'ai vu maint champ de bataille, j'ai détruit mainte armée, et je n'ai jamais été battu. Mais j'ai pitié de toi et ne voudrais pas t'arracher la vie. Ne reste pas avec les Turcs; je ne connais personne dans l'Iran qui est des épaules et des bras comme toi."' Sometimes the translation is literal, as, e. g.

'for like the lightning to this field,

I came, and like the wind I go away;"'-Ibid. p. 41. which is a mere literal rendering of- Je suis venu comme la foudre, et je m'en vais comme le vent.'

This is not the only passage furnished by the short paper we have referred to which has been similarly transferred, and it at

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