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hunger, he either did a right or a wrong; he did his duty, or the contrary : for every thing, in our treatment of our fellow-creatures, that is not duty, is of the nature of evil.'--p. 568. It is just this sweeping kind of conclusions, these uncompromising dogmas, and rules without exceptions, which have been the besetting sins of Mr. Godwin's life. Mr. Malthus, in the spirit of temperate philoso-, phy, has observed, that the general principles on these subjects; ought not to be pushed too far, though they should always be kept, in view; and that many cases may occur, in which the good resulting from the relief of the present distress may more than overbalance the evil to be apprehended from the remote consequence.'
-B. iv. c. 11. The exercise of compassionate beneficence is as much a moral duty as the exercise of justice. It is given us, like, the prerogative of pardon in the Crown, to modify, in particularcases, the rigour of general law. And as the King is bound by his oath, so is every other man by his duty, and by the example of his Maker, to administer justice in mercy. And we do think, that all who advocate the doctrine of Mr. Malthus are particularly called upon to enforce the duties of a discriminating charity: for assuredly the tendency of that doctrine is to diminish our sympathy. with the poor as a class ; teaching us to consider them, in general, as improvident intruders. And, in the same proportion, its ten-' dency is to furnish an apology to the selfishness of the wealthy...
These are the points to be guarded in the enunciation of Mr. Malthus's principles. But the important truth of those principles must not be suppressed, because the unfeeling and the vicious may occasionally pervert them to disguise from others, and perhaps from themselves, the selfishness of their hearts. Let such be loudly reminded, that when all claims shall be abolished for indiscriminate charity, and for that systematic supply which, by teaching the poor to reckon upon it, only increases the quantum of improvidence, and the number of the claimants; still enough will remain of unmerited distress, of failure in the best efforts of virtue, to take away all pretence for indulging in selfish monopoly and hardhearted indifference.
ART. VIII.-Prometheus Unbound, a Lyrical Drama, in Four
Acts; with other Poens. By Percy Bysshe Shelley. 8vo. 1821.
GREAT lawyer of the present day is said to boast of pracA tising three different modes of writing : one, which any body can read; another which only himself can read; and a third, which neither he nor any body else can read. So Mr. Shelley may plume himself upon writing in three different styles: one which can be generally understood; another which can be understood
only by the author; and a third which is absolutely and intrinsically unintelligible. Whatever his command may be of the first and second of these styles, this volume is a most satisfactory testimonial of his proficiency in the last..
If we might venture to express a general opinion of what far surpasses our comprehension, we should compare the poems contained in this volunie to the visions of gay colours mingled with darkness, which often in childhood, when we shut our eyes, seem to revolve at an immense distance around us. In Mr. Shelley's poetry all is brilliance, vacuity, and confusion. We are dazzled by the multitude of words which sound as if they denoted something very grand or splendid: fragments of images pass in crowds before us; but when the procession has gone by, and the tumult of it is over, not a trace of it remains upon the memory. The mind, fatigued and perplexed, is mortified by the consciousness that its labour has not been rewarded by the acquisition of a single distinct conception; the ear, too, is dissatisfied: for the rhythm of the verse is often harsh and unniusical; and both the ear and the understanding are disgusted by new and uncouth words, and by the awkward, and intricate construction of the sentences.
The predominating characteristic of Mr. Shelley's poetry, however, is its frequent and total want of meaning. Far be it from us to call for strict reasoning, or the precision of logical deductions, in poetry; but we have a right to demand clear, distinct conceptions. The colouring of the pictures may be brighter or more variegated than that of reality ; elements may be combined which do not in fact exist in a state of union ; but there must be no confusion in the forms presented to us. Upon a question of mere beauty, there may be a difference of taste. That may be deemed energetic or sublime, which is in fact unnatural or bombastic; and yet there may be much difficulty in making the difference sensible to those who do not preserve an habitual and exclusive intimacy with the best models of composition. But the question of meaning, or no meaning, is a matter of fact on which common sense, with common attention, is adequate to decide; and the decision to which we may come will not be impugned, whatever be the want of taste, or insensibility to poetical excellence, which it may please Mr. Shelley, or any of his coterie, to impute to us. We permit them to assume, that they alone possess all sound taste and all genuine feeling of the beauties of nature and art: still they must grant that it belongs only to the judgment to determine, whether certain passages convey any signification or none; and that, if we are in error ourselves, at least we can mislead nobody else, since the very quotations which we must adduce as examples of nonsense, will, if our charge be not well founded, prove the futility of our accusation at
the very time that it is made. If, however, we should conipletely establish this charge, we look upon the question of Mr. Shelley's poetical merits as at an end; for he who has the trick of writing very showy verses without ideas, or without coherent ideas, can contribute to the instruction of none, and can please only those who have learned to read without having ever learned to think...
The want of meaning in Mr. Shelley's poetry takes different shapes. Sometimes it is impossible to attach any signification to his words ; sometimes they hover on the verge between meaning and no meaning, so that a meaning may be obscurely conjectured by the reader, though none is expressed by the writer; and soinetimes they convey ideas, which, taken separately, are sufficiently clear, but, when connected, are altogether incongruous. We shall begin with a passage which exhibits in some parts the first species of nonsense, and in others the third.
• Lovely apparitions, dim at first,
Then radiant, as the mind, arising bright
And arts, tho' unimagined, yet to be.'-p. 105. The verses are very sonorous; and so many fine words are played off upon us, such as, painting, sculpture, poesy, phantoms, radiance, the embrace of beauty, immortal progeny, &c. that a careless reader, influenced by his habit of associating such phrases with lofty or agreeable ideas, may possibly have his fancy tickled into a transient feeling of satisfaction. But let any man try to ascertain what is really said, and he will immediately discover the imposition that has been practised. From beauty, or the embrace of beauty, (we know not which, for ambiguity of phrase is a very frequent companion of nonsense,) certain forms proceed : of these forms there are phantoms; these phantoms are dim; but the mind arises from the embrace of beauty, and casts on them the gathered rays which are reality; they are then baptized by the name of the immortal progeny of the arts, and in that character proceed to visit Prometheus. This galimatias (for it goes far beyond simple, nonsense) is rivalled by the following description of something that is done by a cloud.
I am the daughter of earth and water,
And the nursling of the sky;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain, when with never a stain . "
The pavilion of heaven is bare,
Build up the blue dome of air.
*And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb, . I arise, and unbuild it again.'-op. 199, 200.
There is a love-sick lady, who dwells under the glaucous caverns of ocean,' and wears the shadow of Prometheus' soul,' without which (she declares) she cannot go to sleep. The rest of her story is utterly incomprehensible; we therefore pass on to the debut of the Spirit of the earth.
• And from the other opening in the wood
Which drowns the sense. We have neither leisure nor room to develope all the absurdities here accumulated, in defiance of common sense, and even of grammar; whirlwind harmony, a solid sphere which is as many thousand spheres, and contains ten thousand orbs or spheres, with intertranspicuous spaces between them, whirling over each other on a thousand sightless (alias invisible) axles; self-destroying swiftness ; intelligible words and wild music, kindled by the said sphere, which also grinds a bright brook into an azure mist of elemental
subtlety; odour, music, and light, kpeaded into one aërial mass, and the sense drowned by it!
Oh quanta species! et cerebrum non habet.' . One of the personages in the Prometheus is Demogorgon. As he is the only agent in the whole drama, and effects the only change of situation and feeling which befals the other personages; and as he is likewise employed to sing or say divers hymns, we have endeavoured to find some intelligible account of himn. The following is the most perspicuous which we have been able to discover :
" A mighty power, which is as darkness,
Into the pores of sun-light.'-p. 149. Love, as might be expected, is made to perform a variety of very extraordinary functions. It fills the void annihilation of a sceptred curse' (p. 140); and, not to mention the other purposes to which it is applied, it is in the following lines dissolved in air and sun-light, and then folded round the world.
" The impalpable thin air, .
Had folded itself round the sphered world.-P. 116. Metaphors and similes can scarcely be regarded as ornaments of Mr. Shelley's compositions ; for his poetry is in general a mere jumble of words and heterogeneous ideas, connected by slight and accidental associations, among which it is impossible to distinguish the principal object from the accessory. In illustrating the incoherency which prevails in his metaphors, as well as in the other ingredients of his verses, we shall take our first example, not from that great storehouse of the obscure and the unintelligible—the Prometheus, but from the opening of a poem, entitled, 'A Vision of the Sea,' which we have often heard praised as a splendid work of imagination.
The rags of the sail a
As if ocean had sunk from beneath them : they pass
And the waves and the thunders made silent around
Leave the wind to its echo.'— p. 174. At present we say nothing of the cumbrous and uncouth style of these verses, nor do we ask who this she' is, who sees the water