This is almost a new crime among us. While France has to blush for so many tomes of “Poesies Erotiques,” we have little to answer for, but the coarse indecencies of Rochester and Dryden; and these, though sufficiently offensive to delicacy and good taste, can scarcely be regarded as dangerous. There is an antidote to the poison they contain, in the open and undisguised profligacy with which it is presented. If they are wicked, they have the honesty at least to profess wickedness. The mark of the beast is set visibly on their foreheads; and though they have the boldness to recommend vice, they want the effrontery to make her pass for virtue. In their grossest immoralities, too, they scarcely ever seem to be perfectly in earnest; and appear neither to wish nor to hope to make proselytes. They indulge their own vein of gross riot and debauchery; but they do not seek to corrupt the principles of their readers; and are contented to be reprobated as profligate, if they are admired at the same time for wit and originality.
The immorality of Mr. Moore is infinitely more insidious and malignant. It seems to be his aim to impose corruption upon his readers, by concealing it under the mask of refinement; to reconcile them imperceptibly to the most vile and vulgar sensuality, by blending its language with that of exalted feeling and tender emotion; and to steal impurity into their hearts, by gently perverting the most simple and generous of their affections. In the execution of this unworthy task, he labours with a perseverance at once ludicrous and detestable. He may be seen in every page running round the paltry circle of his seductions with incredible zeal and anxiety, and stimulating his jaded fancy for new images of impurity, with as much melancholy industry as ever outcast of the muses hunted for epithets or metre.
It is needless, we hope, to go deep into the inquiry, why certain compositions have been reprobated as licentious, and their authors ranked among the worst enemies of morality. The criterion by which their delinquency may be determined, is fortunately very obvious: no scene can be tolerated in description, which could not be contemplated in reality, without a gross violation of propriety: no expression can be pardoned in poetry to which delicacy could not listen in the prose of real life.
No writer can transgress those limits, and be held guiltless; but there are degrees of guiltiness, and circumstances of aggravation or apology, which ought not to be disregarded. A poet of a luxuriant imagination may give too warm a colouring to the representation of innocent endearments, or be betrayed into indelicacies in delineating the allurements of some fair seducer, while it is obviously his general intention to give attraction to the picture of virtue, and to put the reader on his guard against the assault of temptation. Mr. Moore has no such apology;—he takes care to intimate to us, in every page that the raptures