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in verse. His Rape of the Lock, and several descriptive passages in the Windsor Forest, afford indisputable evidence that he possessed a fancy at once delicate and prolific, and that he could “ look on nature with a poet's eye." If Pope had lived in later times, he would probably have been a very different kind of poet, and have attended more to the culture and development of his imagination. It was formerly the fashion to regard poets as mere
men of wit about town,” but they are now expected to be at once fanciful and profound. People at last begin to make a distinction between verse and poetry, and cleverness and genius. Mere talent in a poem is no longer respected as it used to be, for there is now a general love of poetry for its own sake, and readers look less for smart and pointed passages of shrewd sense and satire, than for thoughts and words steeped in the hues of imagination. The consequence is that a much higher and more ethereal tone pervades the poetry of the day; and readers, accustomed to strains of loftier mood, turn with something like disgust from the verses that charmed them in their earlier years. The old common-places of poetry no longer deceive us, and the artificial expressions in which many writers of mere verse once enveloped their sickly sentimentalities, and thus passed upon the world for poets, are now utterly discarded; and if an author's style be not fresh and natural, he is not endured. Even Pope himself indulged too much in the use of epithets that were nothing more than sounding expletives, that became the more disgusting from their eternal repetition by his servile herd of imitators.
The lady, to whose Sonnets I must now return, deals very liberally in the old fashioned diction, and in that querulous egotism and fantastic melancholy which were common to all her contemporary Sonneteers. According to their notions, to be truly poetical it was necessary to be sad, and the whole world was to be informed of their affliction. Anna Seward is severely witty on Mrs. Smith's Sonnets. “ Never,” she says, “ were poetical whipt syllabubs in black glasses so eagerly swallowed by the odd taste of the public." But Mrs. Smith was not, like too many of her contemporaries, a tuneful hypocrite; for she really was acquainted with grief, and had no little cause for those “ melodious tears,” with which she gave herself to fame. She suffered severely from the failure of her husband's mercantile speculations, and the brutality and fraud of lawyers and guardians, who cheated her of a provision for her large family. Her domestic sorrows are very touchingly told in the prefaces to the different editions of her poems. Aware, therefore, that her melancholy is no poetic fiction, though often rather affectedly expressed, we can read her Sonnets without that sicken. ing sensation which is excited by the false and ridiculous sensibilities of the Della Cruscan School. These little poems are not constructed on the Petrarchan model, and have no right to the title of sonnets, unless every poem in fourteen lines may be said to belong to that species of composition. But fourteen lines or three quatrains, and a concluding couplet, do not make a sonnet, if Petrarch and Dante in the Italian, and Milton and Wordsworth in our own language, are to be taken as authorities. In the metrical construction, and in the unity of design peculiar to the sonnet, these little compositions are all deficient. But if they are not legitimate Sonnets, several of them are very pretty and pleasing poems; for, though I once thought far more highly of them than I now do, I can still see something in them to admire. They have a feminine pathos, and a delicacy and tenderness of sentiment, that ought to save them from oblivion. Though the liquid smoothness of the versification, and the languid elegance of the diction may not suit an ear accustomed to the vigour and variety of later poems, I can remember that they gratified me in my younger days, and they have still a kind of charm for me that I am almost ashamed to acknowledge. Perhaps early associations, a reference to the feminine qualities of the fair author's mind, and a sympathy for her distresses, make me willing to be pleased in
defiance of an increased experience and a maturer judgment. I have no doubt that it was a perusal of these Sonnets, (for such, as a matter of courtesy or convenience, they must be called,) that suggested those of Bowles, which are written in a similar strain of feeling, and perhaps with no great superiority in point of strength and originality. The versification, however, is rather more varied, and the metrical arrangement is, in some respects, a little closer to the Italian model. They have met with much the same fate. They as speedily ran through a number of editions, and were almost as speedily neglected. A great poet too, the author of Christabel, with whose own style they are so strikingly contrasted, has praised them with the same enthusiasm as did Cowper those of Charlotte Smith. Little dependence, it seems, is to be placed on the individual judgments of poets upon each other, whether favorable or adverse. Waller saw nothing in Milton, but an old blind school-master, who had written
poem remarkable for nothing but its length. Wordsworth and Coleridge think Gray's Elegy in a Country Church-yard a very meagre and common-place production; and Byron insinuated that Pope was a greater poet than Shakspeare, and spoke very contemptuously of Spenser. When doctors disagree, the general voice must decide upon disputed points, though even then we have no final judgment, for the public is often as fickle as a child. Tbis is very perplexing to the poet, whose life is one dream of ambition. His only consolation is the hope that posterity will be more calm and constant; and that, when the varying winds of contemporary opinion shall have died away, his bark may float securely upon the smooth waters of immortality. It is melancholy, however, to reflect how many who have once enjoyed a flattering popularity, and who have looked forward with a proud confidence to such a consummation, have passed from the memories of men like summer clouds. Charlotte Smith, elegant and refined as she is, is rapidly sinking into oblivion, and in a very few years will be
utterly forgotten. In the meantime, as I have just spent a pleasant half-hour over her little volume, let me show my gratitude to her gentle spirit, by such praises as I can conscientiously award her, and refresh the memory of my readers with a few favourable extracts.
The following little poem, on seeing some children at play, has been quoted both by Bowles and Leigh Hunt, (poets of very different tastes and habits,) with considerable praise :
“Sighing I see yon little troop at play,
By sorrow yet untouched, unhurt by care;
Mrs. Smith's knowledge of Botany, to which science, by the way, she has addressed a sonnet, is displayed in a very pleasing manner in several of her poems; and she rarely speaks of flowers without a minute fidelity of description, and the use of very graphic epithets. The following couplet is a specimen of the curious felicity of her botanical allusions.
“ From the mapped lichen to the plumei weed;
From threudy mosses to the veinéd flower."
* This is a sad sacrifice of grammar to rhyme. Byron has made a similar one his fourth Canto of Childe Harold :
“And dashest him again to earth ; there let him lay.”
The “Sonnet written at the close of Spring" offers further illustrations of this peculiar character of her verse.
“ The garlands fade that Spring so lately wove,
Each simple Power, which she had nurs’d in dew,
Mrs. Smith's study of flowers led her much into the open fields, and she has shown herself to be a very minute and delicate observer of external nature. The following brief passage taken from one of her sonnets is picturesque.
“ And sometimes when the sun with parting rays
Gilds the long grass that hides my silent bed,
It reminds me of a beautiful touch of Coleridge's pencil in the annexed lines.
“ But the dell,
There is an expression in the following line, which has been borrowed by a living poet.
“ The night-flood rakes upon the stony shore.”