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10 Pages

Mr Campbell and Mr Crabbe

WithDuncan Wu

Mr Campbell may be said to hold a place (among modern poets) between Lord Byron and Mr Rogers. With much of the glossy splendour, the pointed vigour, and romantic interest of the one, he possesses the fastidious refinement, the classic elegance of the other. Mr Rogers, as a writer, is too effeminate, Lord Byron too extravagant: Mr Campbell is neither. The author of the Pleasures of Memory1 polishes his lines till they sparkle with the most exquisite finish; he attenuates them into the utmost degree of trembling softness: but we may complain, in spite of the delicacy and brilliancy of the execution, of a want of strength and solidity. The author of the Pleasures of Hope,2 with a richer and deeper vein of / thought and imagination, works it out into figures of equal grace and dazzling beauty, avoiding on the one hand the tinsel of flimsy affectation, and on the other the vices of a rude and barbarous negligence. His Pegasus is not a rough, skittish colt, running wild among the mountains, covered with bur-docks and thistles, nor a tame, sleek pad, unable to get out of the same ambling pace, but a beautiful manege-horse, fall of life and spirit in itself, and subject to the complete controul of the rider. Mr Campbell gives scope to his feelings and his fancy, and embodies them in a noble and naturally interesting subject; and he at the same time conceives himself called upon (in these days of critical nicety) to pay the exactest attention to the expression of each thought, and to modulate each line into the most faultless harmony. The character of his mind is a lofty and self-scrutinising ambition, that strives to reconcile the integrity of general design with the perfect elaboration of each component part, that aims at striking effect, but is jealous of the means by which this is to be produced. Our poet is not averse to popularity (nay, he is tremblingly alive to it) – but self-respect is the primary law, the indispensable / condition on which it must be obtained. We should dread to point out (even if we could) a false concord, a mixed metaphor, an imperfect rhyme in any of Mr Campbell's productions; for we think that all his fame would hardly compensate to him for the discovery. He seeks for perfection, and nothing evidently short of it can satisfy his mind. He is a high finisher in poetry, whose every work must bear inspection, whose slightest touch is precious – not a coarse dauber who is contented to impose on public wonder and credulity by some huge, ill-executed design, or who endeavours to wear out 144patience and opposition together by a load of lumbering, feeble, awkward, improgressive lines – on the contrary, Mr Campbell labours to lend every grace of execution to his subject, while he borrows his ardour and inspiration from it, and to deserve the laurels he has earned, by true genius and by true pains. There is an apparent consciousness of this in most of his writings. He has attained to great excellence by aiming at the greatest, by a cautious and yet daring selection of topics, and by studiously (and with a religious horror) avoiding all those faults which arise from grossness, vulgarity, haste, and disregard of public / opinion. He seizes on the highest point of eminence, and strives to keep it to himself- he 'snatches a grace beyond the reach of art,'3 and will not let it go – he steeps a single thought or image so deep in the Tyrian dyes of a gorgeous imagination, that it throws its lustre over a whole page – every where vivid ideal forms hover (in intense conception) over the poet's verse, which ascends, like the aloe, to the clouds, with pure flowers at its top. Or to take an humbler comparison (the pride of genius must sometimes stoop to the lowliness of criticism) Mr Campbell's poetry often reminds us of the purple gilliflower, both for its colour and its scent, its glowing warmth, its rich, languid, sullen hue, Yet sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,Or Cytherea's breath!4